First the Micks, Now the Gophs

Last week, I was impressed by the impact Colin Keogh and his organization The Rapid Foundation made by open-sourcing low cost, 3D printed ventilators to answer the global shortage during this coronavirus pandemic.

But I’ve just learned about another humanitarian working closer to home.

Using spare parts, Dr. Stephen Richardson and his team at the University of Minnesota has created a $150 solution to the ventilator crisis. Dr. Richardson is a cardiac anesthesiologist whose idea came from a simple concept; “how we could just automate using an Ambu bag…could we make a machine that could squeeze that for us?”

Ambu bags are widely available in ambulances for paramedics to force air into lungs and manually resuscitate patients. Dr. Richardson thought if they could find an automated mechanism to press the bag, and adjust it to control the volume and limit the air pressure being pushed into patients, they could create a low-cost hack to answer the crisis.

Starting with this widely available product, Dr. Richardson’s team cobbled together a working prototype from low cost parts within hours. On Sunday, March 15th, they hooked it up to an anesthesia machine.

And it worked.

“This is not a device that anyone would choose to use if they had a … super high-end alternative,” he said. But that’s not important now. Given the global ventilator shortage, sharing plans for a cheap alternative online so hospitals around the world can build their own is a godsend. And literally, a life saver.

Ugly, but effective like all good hacks.

Having worked directly with the U as a client, this is the kind of science they do regularly. The federal request arrived on March 13, when the university agreed to review and fund rapid response grants. A raft of their scientists started working immediately. That’s what research universities do.

Six days later, Dr. Richardson’s team successfully tested their fourth prototype on pigs, using pieces sourced from biomedical companies across the Twin Cities. And now they are scaling up for global production.

“People have just been working around the clock every day since Sunday morning, and we have a ventilator that I would be comfortable with someone taking care of me (with) in an ICU or in an operating room,” Dr. Richardson said.

Dr. Richardson’s team will share their latest prototype online tomorrow, Monday the 23rd. With any luck, they will be granted emergency use authorization from the FDA to speed their innovation into production. If that happens, the team will also provide their design for free on-line.

As we hear more of these stories about smart people working for the greater good, perhaps our country will return to the understanding that science, not ideology, saves lives.

Good News: Apollo 13 > COVID-19

Ron Howard’s 1995 movie Apollo 13 stands as a stirring reminder of the transcendent power of well-applied engineering. In one critical scene, Ed Harris playing NASA legend Gene Kranz learns of the imminent failure of the onboard CO2 filters. He eyes his engineers and admonishes them “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a round peg into a square hole. Rapidly.”

In real life, a young Irishman named Colin Keogh is playing a similar role right now with the Open Source Ventilator project. The OSV is the latest initiative from The Rapid Foundation, a charitable organization Keogh co-founded at University College Dublin six years ago. The Rapid Foundation distributes 3D printing know-how to developing countries so people can apply low cost technology to solve problems.

In this case, the problem is daunting: the global ventilator shortage.

Low-cost robot designer Gui Calavanti launched the OSV on Facebook on March 11. Since then, more than 300 doctors, engineers, designers, nurses and venture capitalists around the world have contributed to the project. Major corporations like Accenture and Deloitte offered their R&D infrastructure for ideation and production, all in an effort to create a low-cost, rapid build solution using readily available materials and 3D printers.

And they’ve done it.

In one week, they’ve designed and built a working prototype they hope to get validated by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) next week for use on Covid-19 patients. The 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid (PLA), a non-petroleum-based bioplastic derived from corn starch that can be manufactured anywhere.

Their timing is remarkable. And a godsend in the face of this pandemic.

The independent, U.S.-based Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates the pandemic will create demand for 960,000 ventilators. These machines augment patient respiration in severe cases of Covid-19 where lung inflammation can quickly become viral pneumonia. Ventilators literally make the difference between life and death, but they simply weren’t available. Soon, they can be.

Much like Dr. Jonas Salk declined to patent his polio vaccine in 1952, this open source project continues that laudable approach making their solution available to all.

To Mr. Keogh and all the participants applying science and innovation in the service of humanity, slainte.

Kylie Jenner, Brad Jakeman, and Schadenfreude

While I’m no fan of the Kardashian/Jenner social media sock puppets, this won’t be another post trashing the recent Pepsi mess. And it’s way too pat to claim the idea failed because it originated at Pepsi’s in-house agency, The Creators League (who, for some mystifying reason, eschew possessive apostrophes).


Brad Jakeman @ANA, Kylie Jenner @FuckJerry

Like any produced work built on a flawed premise, the blame for this disappointment falls squarely on the agency leadership who green-lighted this inexcusably muddled and pandering mess.

From the Google trail, that appears to be PepsiCo’s Global Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman, an executive who built a reputation in the press by attacking ad agencies. In a well-publicized speech at the ANA’s none-too-subtly-monikered “Masters of Marketing” 2015 conference, he courted headlines by berating the very agencies that built Pepsi’s name recognition, perhaps as a prelude of his much-hyped launch of Pepsi’s Manhattan-based in-house content unit.

But as must be evident now, self-promoting press releases and industry speeches have little in common with the business of generating meaningful, breakthrough creative work. That task is not the province of critics; it’s the job of creatives: specifically, creative leaders with the experience to insure the work is strategic and breakthrough. And of course, never humiliating. The Creator’s League management failed at this task, not because they are an in-house agency, but because they’re not particularly good.

I actually agree with Mr. Jackman; the time’s ripe to rethink in house agencies, but that demands real thought and innovation. Like anything implemented solely from a fiscal perspective (discount airlines, knockoff electronics, the HMO system), units like his are destined to fail when your sole intention is cost cutting. In today’s saturated, hyper-distracted marketplace, a ‘content factory’ that aims to do more for less is a massive waste. They are destined to become what viral shops were to the 90’s; a fleeting specialty that inevitably folds back into a broader creative shop.

The real opportunity is to specifically design in-house agencies to deliver remarkable creative solutions within idiosyncratic corporate cultural contexts.

Corporations are unique, with unique needs and approaches. Designing a creative enterprise specifically to maximize the work’s impact within that system could prove very worthwhile. But that’s something else entirely from ‘a unit dedicated to affordably producing a high volume of content.

It might be fiscally convenient to create an agency staffed with young, affordable talent and delude yourself that, despite having no experience at creative direction, your executives will somehow know good work when they see it. But that’s akin to a murder suspect who represents themselves at trial.

They have a fool for a client.