From vacuum cleaners to air pumps: Dyson joins the race
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.