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A Scottish design engineer, who is also chief executive of a family business manufacturing outdoor living pods and garden offices, is the only UK finalist in a global challenge to invent a new ventilator to help COVID-19 sufferers.

Ross Hunter, chief executive of Armadilla Ltd on the outskirts of Edinburgh, has turned his expertise to help those suffering from coronavirus as part of the CoVent-19 Challenge by designing his CORE Vent prototype.

He is one of just seven finalists from more than 200 entries from over 40 countries - and the only one shortlisted to be based outside north or south America - in the eight-week challenge judged by a global panel of experts. He was the only individual entrant to reach the finals and is up against teams from such places as Stanford University.

CoVent-19 is described as an open innovation grand challenge for engineers, innovators, designers and makers. The Innovate2Ventilate brief was to develop low-cost, readily deployable mechanical ventilators for use, not only in first world countries but also in developing countries.

If Ross with his newly-formed Team Armadilla - which will comprise a small group of design and manufacturing experts employed at his firm - win the competition, the prototype will be made by partners to help COVID-19 sufferers in any part of the world. Once manufactured, his CORE Vent product would be available for a fraction of the cost of current ventilators.

Ross’ achievement in reaching the finals is an example of the high quality of Scottish design and engineering skills and expertise. It also shows how a company has quickly adapted to unprecedented circumstances. Only last month, Armadilla, based in Bonnyrigg in Midlothian, won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category for its Hotelier Pod, a luxury outdoor living accommodation unit that incorporates high-tech hardware and software developed in-house.

Armadilla is currently on lockdown, so Ross, who is also head of design and development at the firm, decided to enter the CoVent-19 Challenge. Over a period of just three weeks, Ross, working on his own, developed a prototype and 3D models for his CORE Vent product.

For the last few years, Ross has, in his spare time, been developing a new concept for speciality coffee machines and, as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, he realised this design could be adapted for a ventilator. 

CORE Vent takes an alternative approach to a traditional 'bellow' ventilator system and would not use existing component supplies, so it would not draw on limited resources. It uses a novel concept to maintain positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) through a single, simplified system. It could also be supplied in ‘kit form’ where all the essential components come in a box to be assembled at a facility close to end-use. 

Ross is now working on the next stage of the challenge to refine the ventilator and submit working prototypes by 21 June, with the winning design being announced shortly after that date. He has put together a team of Armadilla employees to meet the deadline and the firm is also assisting by providing such things as a working space, tools and materials.

The CoVent-19 Challenge has strategic partnerships with manufacturers, global health NGOs, government agencies and healthcare systems. It will work with the challenge champion to transfer the open-source design to a partner manufacturer for production

Ross Hunter of Team Armadilla, said: “When I heard about the CoVent-19 Challenge I decided I had to enter to try to help the growing number of COVID-19 sufferers across the world. The pandemic is having devastating effects on people and communities everywhere and one of the best ways to treat sufferers is by ensuring there are enough effective and affordable ventilators available, especially in developing countries that don’t have many resources. Just because we in the UK seem to be getting on top of COVID-19, we mustn’t forget the less fortunate.

“I’m still taking in the news that I’ve reached the finals of the challenge up against such strong international competition. I’m pleased to have been able to use my design skills and experience in such a worthwhile way while my own family business, Armadilla, is in lockdown and to be able to involve colleagues in this fast-moving challenge. We’re now working hard to develop our CORE Vent prototype into a fully-functioning ventilator that I hope will end up helping those people affected by a coronavirus.

“I studied mechanical engineering and product design and have always enjoyed tinkering and inventing. I’m fortunate to have Armadilla’s facilities to develop concepts and flesh out ideas, such as my concept for a new ventilator. Everything we do at Armadilla is creative and innovative; we thrive on disruptive innovation.”

Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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