FDA authorizes a ventilator developed by NASA's JPL for emergency use in COVID-19 treatment

Darrell Etherington

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized for emergency use as outlined in the agency's COVID-19 guidelines a new ventilator designed by engineers working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory . The ventilator, which has an acronym because this is NASA we're talking about, is called "VITAL" (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), and its design is being offered for free, licensed use for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The JPL-developed emergency use ventilator is an intubation ventilator, meaning that a patient has to be sedated, with a breathing tube inserted all the way down their airway to assist their breathing. It's reserved for COVID-19 patients exhibiting the most serious symptoms, and even then is really designed for use only to free up availability of existing, fully approved ventilator hardware in the case of extreme shortages.

What makes VITAL most interesting is that it is made of "far fewer" parts than existing traditional ventilators, according to NASA, and it also can be assembled much more quickly, and maintained with less expertise and effort over time. The design provides for use for between three or four months, however, rather than years for traditional hardware, and is meant specifically for COVID-19 patient use, hence its simpler design versus models that are made to serve in a number of different medical situations.

NASA's JPL is seeking commercial manufacturing partners for the hardware now that it has its authorization, however, in order to get it built in large numbers for distribution to hospitals in need.

This is one of a number of different emergency ventilator hardware design and development projects that have been spun up to address hardware needs in light of increased usage due to COVID-19. With NASA JPL's pedigree, and its ability to serve in cases of most dire need, NASA's definitely seems like one of the better engineered options out there.