From vac­uum clean­ers to air pumps: Dyson joins the race

The Guardian - - News Coronaviru­s - Rob Davies

Ever since the en­gi­neer­ing firm Dyson un­veiled a pro­to­type med­i­cal ven­ti­la­tor that it said could help pre­pare the NHS for a surge in Covid-19 pa­tients, there has been scep­ti­cism about its role.

The bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur Sir James Dyson is bet­ter known for his bag­less vac­uum clean­ers, his back­ing for the Brexit cam­paign and, more re­cently, an aban­doned at­tempt to build an elec­tric car.

One ven­ti­la­tor ex­pert, whose com­pany Pen­lon is work­ing with the Ven­ti­la­tor Chal­lenge UK con­sor­tium, spec­u­lated that de­sign­ing a new de­vice and pro­duc­ing thou­sands rapidly was “un­re­al­is­tic”.

But the gov­ern­ment has or­dered 10,000 from Dyson, which de­signed its CoVent pro­to­type in un­der a fort­night and claims it could start rolling them out within weeks.

Dyson may not have med­i­cal ex­per­tise, but ven­ti­la­tors and vac­uum clean­ers both in­volve pump­ing air ef­fi­ciently. Cross­over in­cludes bat­tery packs, air­flow anal­y­sis, and fil­ters that block fine par­ti­cles but not air.

Dyson has teamed up with the Tech­nol­ogy Part­ner­ship, a Cam­bridge-based melt­ing pot of sci­en­tists and in­no­va­tors.

The gov­ern­ment’s Med­i­cal and Health­care prod­ucts reg­u­la­tory agency has yet to give fi­nal ap­proval for the CoVent, but it has been in­volved in test­ing.

Not ev­ery­one is happy about the way Dyson has trum­peted its role. Dozens of com­pa­nies are work­ing on ef­forts to pro­duce ven­ti­la­tors and all have kept their plans rel­a­tively se­cret un­til the gov­ern­ment is ready to give an of­fi­cial up­date. “We’re wait­ing for the green light to start talk­ing about it and Dyson jump­ing the gun wasn’t help­ful,” said one.

But Dyson is not a to­tal out­lier in claim­ing it can de­sign and build a ven­ti­la­tor from scratch. The de­fence and en­gi­neer­ing firm Bab­cock fol­lowed suit yes­ter­day, work­ing with an un­named com­pany that has ex­per­tise in the area.

Sources in gov­ern­ment and among in­dus­trial firms tak­ing part in the ef­fort say no­body is think­ing of the var­i­ous plans re­leased by Dyson, Bab­cock and the Ven­ti­la­tor Chal­lenge UK con­sor­tium as be­ing in com­pe­ti­tion with one an­other.

Rather, the gov­ern­ment is adopt­ing a blun­der­buss ap­proach, throw­ing as much am­mu­ni­tion as it can at a prob­lem that can­not yet be quan­ti­fied.

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