Published: 29th March 2021
A phone call during Lockdown 1.0 led an IIT-Kanpur group to develop a Made In India ventilator in 90 days
The ventilator which was put together in the span of 90 days aimed to offer an affordable option for hospitals in the country to survive COVID-19
While The Ventilator Project, a book describing how an IIT Kanpur consortium built an affordable ventilator to support the nation during the Coronavirus, hit the stands on March 7, authors Amitabha Bandopadhyay and Srikant Sastri spoke at The New Indian Express’s ThinkEdu Conclave to explain how they put together a team that successfully completed the feat within 90 days.
Almost exactly a year back, on March 16, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for innovation to fight the pandemic. And IIT Kanpur answered. It all changed when Bandopadhyay, an Associate Professor at the institute sent out news of the Prime Minister’s challenge through an SOS phone call to all IIT-Kanpur incubated startups. He says, “In those days, every Indian was thinking about how they could help the country. IIT Kanpur incubated companies were no different and I called out to them for support. This was when two young 2018 graduates (Nikhil Kurele and Harshit Rathore) said they would make ventilators.”
The young duo are the founders of Noccarc Robotics which caters to robotics in cleantech and medtech areas. With them, a task force was built comprising of experts from IIT Kanpur. The team worked without hierarchy through constant communication on WhatsApp, email, daily Zoom calls and by supporting each other.
Sastri, Chairman of the 13G Advisory Network says, “I knew these guys from before so I knew they were smart. They sent me a rough video of their prototype and I could see that something was working there. It was a quick decision that we made in 48 hours to support them.”
After studying the relative graphs of COVID cases around the world, their objective was clear. When they started, there were less than a 100 cases but they were confident that numbers would hit the roof soon enough. Expecting a peak around July 2020, they set themselves a deadline of 70 days. Over the course of events, they had to stretch this due to a number of technical reasons.
When news got out, the media labelled their product the ‘50k ventilator’. Sastri elaborates, “Initially, all of us were excited about bringing forth a sub-1 lakh ventilator. And we stayed with that target for a bit. But what changed was that the government’s regulatory framework kept shifting like goalposts and every time they made a change, it would become an added cost. The goal was to make it available to even the smallest hospital in a Tier 4 city or village in India. We wish there was more clarity on this regulatory framework.”
Bandopadhyay adds that despite the setbacks, the young engineers kept going, “The youngsters were the ones who kept us afloat. They took all these challenges in their stride. They had a target of giving us product updates every 3 days and they did it without failing even once. They took it as a technical challenge. We had a good division of power where they were able to focus on the design aspects like parts and components while we focused on everything else.”
The book itself was also written in under 90 days. When they wrote the concept together and approached a publisher together, it was accepted immediately. They went on to structure and organise what they knew. Together, they documented facts from WhatsApp groups and email chains. In addition to this, they also spoke to various experts and representatives from the government.