The IISc team took about 35 days to go from the drawing board to a proof-of-concept system, and then a working prototype in another two weeks
The outbreak of the Covid-19 disease has posed new challenges to the global economy as well as people’s daily lives. At the same time, crisis is also a strong driver of creativity and innovation. Take for instance, the research & development (R&D) work being done at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru; in addition to supporting startups that are developing solutions and services to combat the pandemic, a separate engineering team headed by IISc faculty has successfully completed the prototyping of an intensive care unit (ICU) grade ventilator called Praana.
Project Praana was started by IISc faculty members Gaurab Banerjee, Duvvuri Subrahmanyam, TV Prabhakar and Pratikash Panda, Bengaluru-based engineer Manas Pradhan, and retired IISc professor HS Jamadagni. Volunteers including physicians Supreet Khare, Sriram Sampath, and Krishna Prasad also pitched in. Built using a custom-designed pneumatic system controlled by a microprocessor, it uses proprietary algorithms and techniques to blend air and oxygen in the desired ratio. It also has fine-grained control of patient-side respiratory parameters such as respiration rate, inspiration to expiration etc. It supports both invasive and non-invasive ventilation.
“The project was spurred by the escalating Covid-19 crisis towards the end of March 2020,” says Duvvuri Subrahmanyam, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at IISc and one of the co-founders of Praana. “To overcome severe constraints on the international supply chains and costs, we decided to come up with an entirely new design for a ventilator which only involves components that are made (or easily available) in India, and yet meets the key functionality requirements of a full-fledged medical ventilator.”
The team took about 35 days to go from the drawing board to a proof-of-concept system, and then a working prototype in another two weeks. The project received internal support from IISc, external funding from the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, government of India, and a CSR contribution from the State Bank of India Foundation. Narayana Health, Bengaluru, provided medical testing equipment for verification of the ventilator performance.
The project team subjected Praana’s design to extensive bench-top experimental testing, and after the design performance was successfully verified (proof of concept), it translated the technology into a working laboratory-grade prototype. The novel technical design and experimentation was an entirely academic exercise. The local industry in Bengaluru helped out with fabrication of the ventilator chassis.
During the design phase, it had regular inputs from the project medical team that consisted of doctors across India with specialisations in pulmonology and anesthesiology, says Subrahmanyam. “The prototype has been subjected to extensive testing on a medical test lung, and has performed very well. We are yet to subject it to trials at hospitals, and plan to do so after some more work on the product development front.”
While the immediate goal is to address the Covid-19 scenario, the Praana team also wants this technology to make a long-term impact on the low-cost, high-quality health care sector in India and elsewhere. “The next step we are taking is to further develop the prototype, which essentially is a technology demonstrator, to a field-ready product in terms of engineering reliability and quality/medical certifications. The final product will be about half the size of the prototype, and will contain more advanced hardware and software features,” he says. “We are also exploring options to collaborate with an established industry partner in the product development exercise.”