Protocol Labs Research
2020-09-25 / News, Grants
COVID-19 Open Innovation Grant update

In the spring, as COVID-19 swept the globe, Protocol Labs quickly retooled its grant program and launched an accelerated grants program to support open-source projects building tools to confront present and future pandemics. Within one month of launch, PL awarded a total of $200,000 to ten projects marshalling hardware, software, research, and community-building to fight COVID.

The COVID-19 Open Innovation grant program has spurred a great deal of interest from the PL community, and we’re pleased to be able to share an update on the progress of some of our funded projects:

The Geo Backtracer project is building technology to enhance contact-tracing efforts: Geo Backtracer is a distributed backend to store users’ real-time GPS locations and provide a way to backtrace close contacts between users (close proximity lasting >15 minutes) over a period of 15 days.

The project is one component that can be coupled with GPS datapoint aggregators to implement a complete contact-tracing app. Geo Backtracer offers automation to scale with increasing user load, and the technology is already in the testing phase: multiple simulations with up to 50 million users have confirmed that the approach scales linearly and is production-ready.

At the end of July, the project tagged its 1.0.0 release. Implemented in C++ and using RockDB, Geo Backtracer provides an API to batch push GPS points, retrieve correlations for a contaminated user and delete data for GDPR compliance. It also includes automated garbage collection, traffic encryption between cluster nodes, data redundancy and failover within the cluster, and automated deployment using Ansible.

UBORA is a platform for open-source co-innovation, bringing together European and African universities and their associated tech hubs to research sustainable healthcare through collaborative design.

UBORA held a design competition focusing on devising technological solutions for the management of present and future outbreaks. UBORA is currently supporting the implementation of 10 successful projects, including efforts to build medical devices, patient monitoring technology, open-source wearables, personal protective equipment, and diagnostic tools. One UBORA-supported project, a portable ventilator developed by students at Kenyatta University, is headed to clinical trials in Kenya.

UBORA has recently been selected by the European Commission as a finalist for the Horizon Impact Award, prize dedicated to EU-funded projects having outstanding societal impact both within and beyond Europe.

Public Invention’s VentMon - Inline Ventilator Test Fixture and Monitor project was created to address the urgent need to improve testing of open-source ventilator designs. It is a simple inline device plugged into the airway of a ventilator that monitors performance and raises an audio or internet alarm in case of failure. It can be used for testing ventilators before deployment as well as for ICU patient monitoring.

The team has already built and shipped 5 VentMons, two of which are now being used by other teams to test their ventilators and flow sensors. The VentMon team is also addressing a global flow sensor shortage by supporting teams in designing and building replacement parts to speed production.

Public Invention has been active in forging the global open-source ventilator community into a team, holding a virtual conference in May (including a short presentation from PL’s Marta Belcher) and maintaining a number of repos for software, data standards, and parts that encourage reuse by being both modular and completely free and open. The VentMon team continues to work on improving the hardware and software capabilities of the device as they learn more about clinical needs – they are currently building a version that includes oxygen sensing – and intend to build and give away at least twenty free VentMon tester/monitors. In the meantime, they are also working to promote standards for modular composable ventilator design, and broadening the open-source ventilation community’s research focus to include non-invasive as well as invasive ventilation.

Open Medical’s Origami Mask Respirator has rapidly progressed from being a kitchen-table concept to a professionally-developed medical device available to all.

The Origami Mask is a respirator design that requires no sewing or special equipment, a low tech-solution designed for distributed production. The design team at Open Medical incorporated feedback from their open forum to improve the fit of the mask, reshaping and bolstering the bridge and scaling the mask to accommodate a wider range of head sizes and conducting further research and testing of the materials.

Working in partnership with NextFab, a Philadelphia makerspace, Open Medical has been able to manufacture and provide 10,000 Origami Masks to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and 1,000 Origami Masks to Carelink. Inspired by the ingenuity displayed on its forums, Open Medical recently held a face mask design contest to promote mask usage and generate more community involvement in facemask design.

Community Data Science’s COVID-19 Digital Observatory collects open-access social media data related to COVID-19 in researcher-friendly formats, creating public datasets and freely licensed tools to empower researchers, practitioners, and public health officials.

Since its launch, the Digital Observatory has aggregated and published public data from multiple online communities and platforms, with a particular focus on search engine query data and revision and pageview data from English Wikipedia. The project is currently preparing a release of COVID-related datasets culled from Reddit and Twitter, and has published the code used to create the datasets, as well as technical guidance on working with the data.

We at Protocol Labs have enjoyed the privilege of contributing to such an interesting roster of projects. While we have closed our COVID grant program, there are still many opportunities for individuals and groups to donate their skills or resources to pandemic response efforts; many of these can be found by browsing platforms like HelpWithCovid.

We continue to focus on our core mission of making the internet faster, safer, and more open while remaining alert to new opportunities to invest in resilient communities.