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TECHNOLOGY | 05.18.2020

F1 puts its technology to use in the fight against coronavirus

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As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought the world to a standstill, there are many initiatives aimed at manufacturing protective devices (such as masks or protective screens) and even medical equipment such as ventilators or mask sterilizers. Some of these initiatives involve individuals collaborating from home, while others have seen Formula 1 teams stepping in and bringing their latest technology with them.

For protective items, the “maker” community has set to work, and hundreds of people are collaborating by printing equipment at home using 3D printers.

In general, “makers” can dedicate themselves to the creation of devices, or use their technical or scientific knowledge to find solutions. One of the communities best known for its activity is CoronavirusMakers.org

Formula 1 teams are contributing their technology in a bid to shorten development times

The power of Formula 1 teams is enormous. Not only do they boast the most advanced technology in a variety of areas, including aerodynamics, engines, communications or R&D. UK-based teams—Mercedes, Renault, Red Bull, Haas, McLaren, Williams and Racing Point—have launched a joint project, called “Project Pitlane” to help develop CPAP devices.

These devices are halfway between an oxygen mask and a complete ventilation system. The Mercedes team led the development of this respiratory aid that is capable of keeping coronavirus patients out of intensive care, thereby easing the pressure on the British healthcare system.

The role of the teams was to work with engineers from University College London as well as clinical staff from University College London Hospital to adapt and improve CPAP devices.

A CPAP machine is a continuous positive airway pressure device, capable of delivering air through a mask at a set pressure. It is the main treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Hypopnea Syndrome (OSAHS). These devices are used to maintain constant airway pressure throughout the respiratory cycle.

It took the high-performance power-train engineers at Mercedes-AMG and University College London Hospital (UCLH) less than 100 hours to complete the design of a CPAP for mass production. At that time, they analyzed and disassembled an unpatented device and subjected it to different computer simulations to improve its design. The new design uses 70 percent less oxygen than the model the engineers started out with.

All of the designs developed have been made publicly available at no cost, including the specifications of the materials, tools and kits used in the rapid prototyping process.

According to Formula 1, Project Pitlane “will pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams to greatest effect, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly.”

Renault DP World F1 Team  and Red Bull Team, reunited in the fight against coronavirus

Despite the fact that Renault’s time as an engine supplier for the Red Bull Team has come to an end in the sporting arena, the two teams are back working together for Project Pitlane. Their collaborative project was called “BlueSky” and consisted of a ventilator model that they developed under the direction of an NHS junior doctor, Alastair Darwood.

Despite the project being, once again, carried out in record time, the British government scrapped it for technical reasons; the model was suitable for normal patients with respiratory illnesses, but a different design is required to effectively treat COVID-19.

However, the project will not be stopped, and all the F1 teams involved will continue to work on this line. As the spokesperson consulted by The Guardian put it, “The F1 team project leads for BlueSky – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Renault DP World F1 Team – have shown brilliant dedication and skill throughout the project and should feel proud of the work they have undertaken.”

“Hacking” devices to help develop solutions in the time of coronavirus

What F1 teams are doing, in a nutshell, is reverse engineering. They are “hacking” existing solutions (in this case, unpatented devices, as mentioned above) in order to improve designs and optimize them to make them more efficient.

Why do this, instead of development from scratch? The situation in which we find ourselves means that in the search for a practical, efficient and effective solution, speed is key. Waiting weeks for a prototype, and then testing it, is not an option.

Within the space of just one week, plus an additional week to complete all the tests necessary to obtain certification for medical use, the F1 teams were in a position to begin mass production.

Other projects: OxyGEN

There are many other projects focused on the manufacture of mechanical or manual ventilators, such as OxyGEN. This device automates the process of manual ventilation for patients in emergency situations where not enough ventilators are available.

The device was developed by a group of professionals led by the company Protofy.xyz, with the scientific support of the Hospital Clínic, the Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol and the Universitat de Barcelona.

It has received the approval from the AEMPS (Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices) for use on the patients at all the hospitals that are participating in the clinical study.

Furthermore, OxyGEN is an open project, so anyone can download the plans and diagrams, and build it without issues. OxyGEN has also been designed for mass production on an industrial scale, using widely available parts and with a minimalist design.