Air Force veteran's firm is $100,000 winner of Army contest to develop ventilators
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A company run by an ex-Air Force medic is one of two winners of a $1 million Army contest to find low-cost, easily manufactured ventilators to help with shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a statement from the service said Friday.
Michael Maguire’s company, AirMid Critical Care Products, Inc., pitched an idea for a manual, bellow-based ventilator last week and won a $100,000 award for further research, Diane Pollard, a spokeswoman with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, told Stars and Stripes.
Spiro Devices, LLC, also received a $100,000 prize through the xTech COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge, an Army contest beginning in early April that sought pitches for ventilators a la the show “Shark Tank.”
Some 150 companies have pitched so far and sent in three-minute videos for review by panels of experts, Pollard said.
The contest started after reports of widespread ventilator shortages in COVID-19 response efforts, said Matthew Willis, the Army’s director for laboratory management.
“The Army recognizes there is a crisis, there was a demand for readily-manufactured, easy-to-produce ventilators,” Willis told Stars and Stripes in mid-April. “We wanted to put out this prize competition as a way to identify and potentially solicit new and novel ideas.”
The contest had two phases, with those getting to the pitch stage winning $5,000 and selected pitches receiving $100,000 and an invitation to develop a prototype.
The competition continues and others can receive prizes if their ideas have merit, Willis said.
The award will help accelerate development of a prototype, said Maguire, the CEO of AirMid Critical Care Products, Inc.
The D.C.-based company’s idea adds a control mechanism to manual ventilators, which are hand-pumped and often used by first responders.
A COVID-19 patient with infected lungs, after being picked up by a first responder, will often be placed on a manual air pump until they can get to a mechanical ventilator located at a hospital, Maguire said.
But due to shortages, mechanical ventilators may be far away or unavailable, meaning the patient may have to be on a manual ventilator for a long time. These ventilators, because they are hand-pumped, risk errors and over-inflation of the lungs, with deadly results, he said.
The solution, Maguire said, is a manual pump that is portable, but has controls on how much air is put into a patient’s lungs similar to a hospital’s mechanical ventilator.
“It projects a level of safety that is only available today in mechanical ventilators, to a manual device so you can ventilate safely from the very first breath,” Maguire said.
The finished product would sell for less than $3,000 and he hopes it can be used by both the military and civilians, Maguire said.