The plight of his doctor-mother inside a PPE kit, carrying out her everyday responsibilities towards COVID patients, has prompted a Mumbai engineering student to design a small device that pumps air into a compact ventilation system, offering relief from heat and sweatiness.
The discomfort caused by wearing PPE kits for long hours increases further as air conditioning (AC) is switched off or slowed down as a measure to prevent spread of SARS-Cov2 virus.
Nihal Singh Adarsh, a second-year student of K J Somaiya College of Engineering, was pained to see his mother’s suffering. His mother, Dr Poonam Kaur Adarsh, is a general physician, who runs a clinic at Pune where COVID-19 patients are treated regularly. She once told Nihal the discomfort of wearing PPE kit, which is necessary to protect oneself from the infection.
The young student felt he should do something for doctors and paramedics to alleviate their suffering. So he started on a task to design a ventilation system that would ensure air circulation inside PPE kits without the risk of spreading COVID infection.
Nihal’s first step was to participate in a design challenge for COVID-related equipment, organized by Technological Business Incubator, Research Innovation Incubation Design Laboratory. With guidance from Dr Ulhas Kharul of National Chemical Laboratory of Pune, the aspiring student developed his first model in 20 days.
Dr Ulhas runs a start-up which does research on a membrane to filter air, with the aim of preventing spread of COVID-19. Therefore, Nihal got ideas about what type of filter he should use in order to achieve an optimum balance between filtration efficiency and air flow quality.
At this stage, the Mumbai student got backing from Somaiya Vidyavihar University’s RIIDL (Research Innovation Incubation Design Laboratory), supported by the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB), under the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. After more than six months of hard work, the initial prototype emerged. It was neck-mounted, sucking in air through U-shaped air inlets, and had pillow-like structures which could be worn around the neck.
Nihaal gave the prototype to Dr Vinayak Mane of Pune for a feedback. Dr. Mane pointed out that wearing it around the neck will be a big discomfort for doctors and healthcare workers, due to the constant sound and vibration the device emitted. So, the first prototype was discarded.
Undeterred, Nihal started work on other designs and tried to find a solution which does not obstruct the medial care workers in any way while they went about doing their job with efficiency. This aspiration for perfection led to the development of around 20 model prototypes and 11 ergonomic prototypes till the final product emerged. At this stage, Nihal got help from Gaurang Shetty, Chief Innovation Catalyst at RIIDL and CEO of Dassault Systems, Pune. The state-of-the-art prototyping facility at Dassault Systems helped in developing prototypes without hassles.
The final prototype that emerged was in the form of a belt worn around the waist, which Nihal gave to his mother, Dr Poonam Kaur Adarsh, who gave a positive feedback.
High-quality components have been used and all safety protection measures have been taken since the PPE kit ventilator is worn close to the body.
Nihal said it has been named “Cov-Tech Ventilation System”. The device comes with a lithium-ion battery which lasts for 6 to 8 hours. Nihal’s dream became a reality, thanks to a Rs 10,00,000/- grant for prototype development and product innovation that he received from NIDHI’s PRomoting and Accelerating Young and ASpiring technology entrepreneurs (PRAYAS) scheme, of the Department of Science and Technology.
The budding entrepreneur has created a start-up called Watt Technovations for developing the device. An application for patent has been filed. Besides the PRAYAS grant, the startup also received a support of Rs 5,00,000, from the New Venture Investment Programme, conducted jointly by RIIDL & K J Somaiya Institute of Management.
The device produced by Watt Technovations is being used currently at Sai Sneh hospital, Pune, and Lotus Multi Specialty hospital, Pune. The product costs Rs 5,499 per piece and is way cheaper than the competitive products that cost around a lakh rupees. The first batch of 30 to 40 units is to be delivered as trial units to doctors/NGOs across the country. The next batch of around 100 units is also under production.