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Home > Focus > Collaboration during COVID-19 | Bottom-up and open source initiatives: report them here!

Collaboration during COVID-19 | Bottom-up and open source initiatives: report them here!

by Anna Pellizzone [1], 24 March 2020

( Update: April 9, 2020. We therefore await your reports to: anticovid19@fondazionebassetti.org )

Finding concrete answers to the needs emerging from the pandemic. From the 3D printing of respirator valves to systems for tracing contagion in real time, from the production of protective clothing that help prevent the contagion of medical workers to protein folding simulations that aid the development of new antiviral molecules.

In these painful and unprecedented weeks, many (lay) citizens and professionals are dedicating their time and abilities to working for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The result is that citizen science, bottom-up innovation and collaborative approaches to research and innovation are making important contributions to broadening and accelerating our capacity to respond to the health emergency provoked by COVID-19.

Within the white noise that is currently engulfing both the mainstream media and social platforms worldwide, we find various people and communities that are spontaneously self-organizing to unite their strengths and combat the pandemic. In order to offer space and hopefully help to these initiatives, our aim is to collect some of them together with the goal of contributing towards recognizing both their needs and competences, and unite them online.

These are the project linked and described in this page: 3D Printing Unite for COVID-19, Open Ventilator Project, OpenAir, UBORA design competition 2020, Czechia sews face masks, Coronaselfcheck, Fold.it, vari software open source, Nextstrain, GISAID, Maschere Decathlon, Vicinoesicuro, Arduino Milano User Group & Wearables. Ma anche: ShapeMode, 3D4MED, ZoraBots, Milano Ventilatore Meccanico. The list can grow: we are waiting for your reports!

3D printing is certainly one of the protagonist technologies within COVID-19 initiatives.
News of respirator valves produced using 3D printers at the hospital in Chiari in the province of Brescia (one of the worst hit areas in Italy) has spread across the world. Thanks to the fruitful meeting between a journalist (Nunzia Vallini, Giornale di Brescia), a Maker from Milan (Massimo Temporelli, FabLab Milano) and an entrepreneur (Cristian Fracassi from Isinnova), pieces required for the machines used in the Intensive Care Department are being produced in the hospital itself.
In a further and related development, the "3D Printing Unite for COVID-19 [2]" forum has taken form, through which Makers from across the world share ideas and possible solutions aimed at responding to the emergency (from the production of valves to the conversion of underwater diving masks for use with lung ventilators). This is an important international open-source initiative headquartered in Ireland, which aims to resolve the problem of the shortage of ventilators, and which is described in greater detail here in Forbes [3]. (Go to index)

Responding to the same problem, Harvard University student João Nascimento has launched the OpenAir project [4], with the aim (also using 3D printing technology) of finding new, fast, open-source and accessible ways to produce much-needed medical equipment. This project gathered together 500 people in 24 hours! The initiative is aimed at experts in this sector, but is open to anyone who wishes to contribute. (Go to index)

The UBORA project, which has already been applying an open-source and bottom-up approach for several years, has launched the UBORA design competition 2020 [5], with the title "Open source medical technologies for integral management of COVID-19 pandemia and infectious disease outbreaks". (Go to index)

Across the social networks, various groups that sustain the self-production of materials (for example masks) have developed and grown. In the Czech Republic, the Facebook group "Czechia sews face masks [6]" has gone viral (no pun intended) amassing 24,000 members in two days, but the reality is that the list of communities and tutorials active in just this sector could fill this entire post. (Go to index)

Those without particular medical or engineering specialties can also make their own contribution to the battle against the pandemic, for example through participating in Coronaselfcheck [7], a platform that works to map data on the spread of COVID-19 through a personal self-check. "The data is completely anonymous and is made available to governmental and health organizations with the aim of actively contributing to limiting and controlling contagion".
We could say the same of fold.it [8], a site that was already actively involving citizens in the simulation of protein folding. For several weeks now users who download and 'play' the Foldit app have been able to help researchers to discover new antiviral drugs that could stop the coronavirus. The most promising solutions will be tested at the Institute for Protein Design of the University of Washington.
Remaining in the area of protein folding, another contribution that citizens can make is to offer their own PC's computational capacity by downloading and running folding@home. (Go to index)

There is also a lot of open-source software available that allows the sharing of useful research data. Several of the tools that are available alongside descriptions of their roles in the battle against coronavirus are available in this article [9] from Wired. In particular Nextstrain [10] is an open-source application that works to track the evolution of viruses and bacteria, while GISAID [11] is a free open-access platform that promotes the sharing of the genetic sequences of virus genomes such as influenza, bird flu and COVID-19.
(Go to index)

A network of medics, makers, and others who work in various projects and roles within the territory first got together in Sondrio, then involved Milan, to provide a care home in Sondrio with decathlon masks that they have converted into oxygen masks. Initial test results are positive, so the community is continuing its work and concentrating on three particular aspects:
1) Needs: those who request the system (hospitals, care homes)
2) Masks: private citizens and organizations that have masks available
3) Component printing: those who are able to produce components using 3D printing or other technology
4) Institutional relationships: The Red Cross (for transport), mayors, citizen associations, voluntary services and networks....
More information and contact links to follow.

On the prevention front we also find social innovation initiatives that are working to slow the spread of the epidemic, one example being Vicinoesicuro [12]. Founded in Reggio Emilia, this project is expanding throughout Italy: Absolutely free of charge, the project offers an easy to navigate map of all activities that offer home delivery: shops, bars, restaurants, newspapers, launderette services and much more
(Go to index)

Andrea Tarantino, a stationer from Milan [13], is using a 3D printer to produce protective masks that are able to defend both himself and other shopkeepers from infection from COVID-19. Using a non-professional 3D printer, he is able to produce a mask starting from a sheet of acetylene in six hours. Not quick, but he is able to supply all of the shopkeepers in the area (Affori).

In order to take stock of current developments, highlight and discuss processes that are born from needs, opportunities and possibility that grow out of bottom-up innovation (such as resources, platforms, repository, licenses and certification), the maker community (in particular Arduino Milano User Group & Wearables) have a virtual meeting [14] scheduled for 21 April 2020 at 7PM. In the second part of the meeting a webinar cycle dedicated to anyone who wants to learn to use Arduino will be introduced. Click here for further information. (Go to index)


Companies and academics working for the good of hospitals and citizens

Even if we are no longer (strictly speaking) in the field of citizen science, we would like to take a look at a series of initiatives that have taken form thanks to the timely intervention of research organizations and innovative businesses. For example, ventilator valves printed in 3D are being supplied to Legnano Hospital by ShapeMode [15]. Salvatore Saldano, Chief Technology Officer of this start-up, started production after he found a model of the valve online, made available open-source by a Polish engineer.

Sticking with responses to the need for substitute pieces for respirators, ventilation systems and CPAP masks, we find an important collaboration in Pavia. The Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture of the University of Pavia (and in particular the 3D4MED [16] clinical laboratory directed by Ferdinando Auricchio and Stefania Marconi) and the Policlinico San Matteo are currently evaluating the first models this collaboration has produced through additive manufacturing. The possibility of larger scale production using companies that are already partners with the University is also on the horizon. (Go to index)

As already highlighted on the patient's innovation platform, Belgian business ZoraBots [17] is working to make a stock of robots currently stockpiled in their warehouse freely available to help elderly and isolated people connect via Facebook messenger.

Returning to Italy, a crowdfunding is currently running for the Milano Ventilatore Meccanico project Milan Mechanical Ventilators [18]), promoted by Cristiano Galbiati, Professor at the GSSI (Gran Sasso Science Institute) and Princeton University. The objective is to develop a new (simple and safe) device that conforms to HRME guidelines and is quickly mass producible. (Go to index)


The idea - over the coming days and weeks - is to continue to collect stories and citizen science, bottom-up innovation and collaborative research experiences that are contributing to the COVID-19 emergency. Thanks to the many friends of the Foundation, who without doubt have knowledge and experience to share, we hope to enrich this post with further projects and share good practices.

We therefore await your reports to: anticovid19@fondazionebassetti.org

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Image: remix from Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 by NIH Image Gallery [19]

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Links in this document:

  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Anna Pellizzone
  2. 2] https://www.3dprintingmedia.network/covid-19-3d-printed-valve-for-reanimation-device/
  3. 3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/03/18/theres-a-shortage-of-ventilators-for-coronavirus-patients-so-this-international-group-invented-an-open-source-alternative-thats-being-tested-next-week/#4d44de573ba0
  4. 4] https://www.projectopenair.org/
  5. 5] http://ubora-biomedical.org/ubora-design-competition-2020/
  6. 6] https://www.facebook.com/groups/641038750030418/
  7. 7] https://www.coronaselfcheck.net/
  8. 8] http://fold.it/
  9. 9] https://www.wired.com/story/data-sharing-open-source-software-combat-covid-19/
  10. 10] https://nextstrain.org/
  11. 11] https://www.gisaid.org/
  12. 12] https://vicinoesicuro.it/about.html
  13. 13] https://www.milanopost.info/2020/04/03/milano-inventa-la-solidarieta-mascherine-in-3d-la-spesa-sospesa-il-pane-su-una-panchina/
  14. 14] https://www.eventbrite.it/e/biglietti-arduino-user-group-wearables-milano-21-aprile-2020-online-94365607071
  15. 15] https://www.shapemode.it/
  16. 16] https://www.3d4med.eu/
  17. 17] https://www.zorarobotics.be/index.php/en/
  18. 18] https://www.gofundme.com/f/emmeviemme?fbclid=IwAR3WLqizmsTo31lF8rKKziFO3VpwOdh7KWiR3YLMNfEGGGrKUW86Y_myT3Y
  19. 19] https://flic.kr/p/2iCRVSJ
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Collaboration during COVID-19 | Bottom-up and open source initiatives: report them here!
Articles by:  Anna Pellizzone
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