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Tesla ventilator prototype

Tesla shares ventilator design incorporating car parts

Image credit: Tesla

In a video posted to the company’s YouTube channel, Tesla engineers revealed two versions of its original ventilator: a prototype and a packaged model.

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk has gone from publicly dismissing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic as “dumb” and resisting pressure to shutter non-essential operations at his factories to enthusiastically offering to assist the pandemic response, including by procuring ventilators and manufacturing his own using temporarily vacated factory space at the New York State “Gigafactory”.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought help from the private sector, including specifically calling on Musk.

While questions have been raised about manufacturers with no experience in healthcare, such as Dyson, offering to design new ventilators rather than using or adapting existing designs, Tesla used a video uploaded to its YouTube channel to explain the reasoning for “[making] some ventilators out of car parts”.

A Tesla engineer explained: “We’ve been working on developing our own ventilator design, specifically one that’s heavily based on Tesla car parts. We want to use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of, and we can go really fast, and they’re available in volume.”

A high-level schematic design briefly seen in the video shows that the design utilises many existing components from Tesla cars. The ventilator is “powered by” the infotainment computer found in the Model 3; uses the Model 3 touchscreen display as a controller, and a suspension air tank from the Model 3 is incorporated as chamber to mix oxygen and air.

The engineers showed a prototype ventilator with its components spread out on a surface for the demonstration, as well as an assembled version similar to that which may be expected as the finalised, shipped product.

It is not known how long it will take for the new ventilator to receive approval from the FDA and begin production, which will require uptooling of the Tesla Gigafactory.

Fellow US automakers Ford and GM have also announced that they will contribute to ventilator production. Ford is working with GE’s healthcare division to make a streamlined version of one of its ventilators (which may or may not contain car parts) and GM is working with Ventec Life Systems to scale up production of its ventilators.

A significant fraction of Covid-19 patients develop severe respiratory complications which may require them to be treated with invasive ventilators which deliver oxygen directly to the lungs as their bodies fight the infection. There is a severe shortage of these invasive ventilators around the world, with the UK alone requiring an estimated 30,000 ventilators to cope with the crisis and doctors warning that the shortage of these devices means that patients more likely to die may need to have their ventilators reallocated to more resilient patients.

Musk has already attracted attention for procuring and distributing 1,000 ventilators to hospitals, although it turned out that these were non-invasive ventilators which – while still in some demand, due to an overall shortage of ventilators – cannot be used to save the lives of critically ill Covid-19 patients in intensive care units.

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