Southampton personal respirators trialled for coronavirus healthcare workers
Researchers from the University of Southampton have rapidly developed a prototype personal respirator that could soon be used to protect doctors and nurses tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts in Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) are working with engineers, medical staff and industry partners on the small portable unit consisting of a fabric hood which covers the wearer's head and a plastic visor to protect their face.
The PeRSo protective equipment, which was accelerated to an early stage prototype within a week, delivers clean air through a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and a belt-mounted fan pack.
Frontline healthcare staff are testing the prototypes on the wards this week, with plans in motion to obtain necessary safety certifications and publish the concept open-source so it would be available around the world.
Professor Hywel Morgan, of ECS, says: "This is an excellent example of industry, universities and hospitals combining their expertise and answering the call to develop solutions needed to save lives in the current crisis.
"We are really grateful to our partners at McLaren, Kemp Sails and INDO on behalf of Baynhams for their commitment in working around the clock with us to getting this from a concept to a working prototype in a matter of days."
The multi-disciplinary team includes ECS's Dr Daniel Spencer, Dr Ric Gillams and Roeland Mingels, who have led on the development of the fan unit, while an engineering team have focussed on the hood design.
Disposable surgical and FFP3 facemasks currently used in hospitals are constantly in high demand, and are not available in some settings. Whilst other personal respirators exist, they also face high demand.
Professor Paul Elkington, of the Clinical and Experimental Sciences research group, said: "We must minimise the risk of infection for medical staff and stop them getting sick at the peak of the pandemic, so that they can care for others. The engineering team have rapidly developed something simple yet effective.
"The HEPA filtered air removes 99.95% of particulate matter and the face mask protects from splashes, and so we think this will reduce the risk of infection."
To tackle availability issues, the team have tried to use off-the-shelf components where possible, and targeted readily available materials and manufacturing methods like laser cutting, 3D printing and a lightweight sewing machine.
The respirators will need to be safe and comfortable when worn continuously for up to nine hours. The PeRSo prototype is designed to be lightweight and quiet, with the fan operating far away from the user's head.
The engineers on the team will also investigate developing simpler prototypes using only components available in developing countries.