Free open-source hardware and 3D printing could help to alleviate the burden of COVID-19 on global health systems, according to scientists at the University of Sussex in England. Free and open-source hardware (FOSH) follows an ethos where blueprints for a tool are made freely available so that anyone can study, learn, modify, customize, and commercialize them.

In a study published in PLoS Biology, University of Sussex professors Tom Baden, PhD, and Andre Chagas, MSc, suggest that FOSH could be a viable option to provide clinicians with the tools and medical equipment they desperately need. The study provides an overview of the blueprints that are currently available for free online and which could be used to help in the fight against coronavirus, focusing on personal protective equipment, ventilators, and test kits.

Although some of the designs still need to be tested, many others have already received suitable verification, having been published in peer-reviewed papers. The authors, therefore, believe that FOSH should be seriously considered as a method of quickly providing equipment where it’s needed.

Baden, a professor of neuroscience, says: “Now is the time that open hardware could really shine and it’s so important that we get on board quickly. Previous studies and experiences have shown that free and open source hardware is a brilliant option in disaster situations. Designs can be shared globally, it has typically lower implementation costs than mass manufacturing and it can be easily adapted to meet local resources.”

“But the real power—and the way this could really help to tackle COVID-19—is that once a tool has been designed and tested, anyone can build it,” Baden adds. “This bypasses the traditional manufacturing and distribution routes and means that it can become a community driven endeavor, where anyone with the capacity to do so can help to produce much-needed equipment and supplies for the healthcare services.”

The paper describes existing FOSH designs from simple tools like do-it-yourself facemasks to 3D printed valves, which can regulate airflow in ventilator tubes. Others are far more complex—including state-of-the-art scientific instruments for diagnosis, such as an automated pipetting robot, plate readers, and a range of other medical tools and supplies.