As the coronavirus crisis lit up this spring, headlines about how the U.S. could innovate its way out of a pending ventilator shortage landed almost as hard and fast as the pandemic itself.
The New Yorker featured “The MacGyvers Taking on the Ventilator Shortage,” an effort initiated not by a doctor or engineer but a blockchain activist. The University of Minnesota created a cheap ventilator called the Coventor; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had the MIT Emergency Ventilator; Rice University, the ApolloBVM. NASA created the VITAL, and a fitness monitor company got in the game with Fitbit Flow. The price tags varied from $150 for the Coventor to $10,000 for the Fitbit Flow—all significantly less than premium commercially available hospital ventilators, which can run to $50,000 apiece.