Social distancing - the global consensus on what our best bet was, to deal with the largest contagion in recent history. Complete lockdown ensued in most countries globally, which would be terminated only when the air around us is considered safe to breathe. Novel devices came up to heal the millions already infected, one such ingenious product being a portable ventilator, a brainchild of Nocca Robotics, an incubated startup of IIT Kanpur.

The product was constructed with indigenous components, thus rendering it as cheap as 70000 INR compared to the standard ventilators available in the market, which are priced at no less than 4 Lakhs INR. The proposed design of the ventilator was of an invasive type, as opposed to the non-invasive ventilators being currently developed. Standard Chartered, as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, has approved to inject generous funds into the fabrication of this device, followed by its testing and clinical trials.

Nocca Robotics, conceived by four graduates Nikhil Kurele, Harshit Rathore, Tushar Agarwal and Abhishek Kulkarni, and IIT Kanpur have assembled a 9-member team, inducting doctors from the Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Bangalore, to vet the product, along with consultations with a consortium comprising Bio-Medical researchers, esteemed R&D specialists and leading supply chain analysts from Med-Tech businesses.

Harnessing their expertise to plan the path for the translation of this idea into a tangible product, following which the startup can manufacture 1000 ventilators within a single month. The project is being coordinated by Prof Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering and Professor-in-Charge, Startup Innovation & Incubation Center, IIT Kanpur.

The ventilator is composed of a tube to directly pump air into the lungs since COVID-19 patients have an insurmountable predicament of breathing on their own accord. The device is operational in both ambient air, and medical air, with facilities to attach an oxygen cylinder, as and when needed. The ventilator functions in a pressure-controlled mode, thus the inhalation may be patient-induced or mechanical. The ventilator may be accessed through a mobile phone too, which also displays the critical information of the patient.

Another team of researchers at the Department of Bio-sciences and Bio-engineering in IIT Kanpur have been successful in designing a cheaper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for the medical staff and doctors in India. The kit, which has been named PIPES (Polyethylene-based Improvised Protective Equipment under Scarcity) is estimated to cost less than Rs. 100 if mass-produced.

India, like every other nation, has been suffering from an acute shortage of gloves, masks and gowns. This, in turn, handicaps the healthcare of the country. The doctors, nurses and medical staff are at the forefront of this war against the COVID-19 virus.

With an insufficient supply of PPEs, the healthcare system would be crippled, which is surely not an enticing prospect. The health care workers might stop coming to work in such a scenario, or worse; they could get infected themselves. The supply for PPE is insufficient for the high demand due to the pandemic.

In such a scenario, the PIPES is a potential game-changer. The PIPES was designed as a PPE but based on thin cylindrical rolls of polyethene (polythene), which is non-porous and commonly used for packaging and making carry bags. "The PIPES Kit may not be visually appealing and as comfortable as the standard PPE kit, but it meets the primary goal of protection against infection.

The usability of the kit has been checked, and feedback from doctors has taken," says Prof. Nitin Gupta, Professor at the Department of Bio-sciences and Bio-engineering at IIT Kanpur who headed the team of researchers who designed this mask.

Several companies and institutes have been working hard on finding frugal innovative technologies which will help us win this war against the Coronavirus. The situation is indeed grim, but with innovations like these, we might succeed in passing through this stage without much damage. And if some of these innovations work out, we might be successful in "flattening the curve", which is essential to minimise the impact of COVID-19.