Open source journal calls for COVID-19 equipment designs

Papers in HardwareX special issue will be free to publish and free to read

By Ian Evans - April 7, 2020
Programmable low-cost ultraviolet room disinfection device Bentancore and Vidal
Programmable and low-cost ultraviolet room disinfection device (Source: Bentancor and Vidal, HardwareX (October 2018)

Healthcare staff around the world need medical equipment to cope with the rapidly rising numbers of patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus. The need for protective equipment and ventilators has been well publicized, but hospitals and care centers need everything from swabs and pipettes to sterilization equipment for rooms.

To help, HardwareX – Elsevier’s open access journal specializing in open source hardware – is planning a special issue on medical equipment designs. All papers will be free to publish and free to read, and you can submit your design by June 1. Accepted papers will be made available online within a week of acceptance.

Prof. Joshua Pearce, PhDExplaining the rationale behind the special issue, Co-Editor-in-Chief Dr. Joshua Pearce, the Witte Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University, said:

We’ve had a lot of success in the past in providing high quality scientific tools that can be built for very low cost – in general, costs decline by 90 to 99 percent against proprietary versions. Todd Duncombe (Postdoc at ETH Zürich and co-Editor-in-Chief) and I basically had the same idea of applying this immediately to the current situation.

The model Hardware X uses involves researchers, engineers or other groups developing hardware designs that are then validated and published in the journal for people around the world to download, remanufacture and even improve on and share their improvements. It’s an approach that benefits communities all over the world, Dr. Duncombe explained:

It’s exceptionally useful in developing countries, but it’s also beneficial for wealthy countries in settings that might also require basic COVID-19 tools, like care homes. High-quality, low-cost designs can really make an impact there. And even in high-resource settings – the labs and hospitals that can afford to buy from major suppliers – it can be the difference between having one tool and having 10.

Todd Duncombe, PhDBy way of example, Dr. Duncombe pointed to a HardwareX paper on a programmable and low-cost ultraviolet room disinfection device (see the images above):

This is a great example of a tool used in a scenario where infection is a risk. There’s already been a lot of interest, as clinicians have to disinfect spaces between uses. The design here would have to be modified, as it’s currently for bacterial disinfection, not viral, but that’s exactly the kind of iterating and improving that Hardware X enables. We’ve already had some discussions with the author about adapting it in this way.

As such, users submitting designs to Hardware X have to share all code with open source licenses so that anyone reading one of the articles can replicate the design exactly.  “That’s one of the most critical features – it helps ideas spread much quicker and more easily,” Dr. Duncombe said.

The brief for the upcoming special issue covers all equipment designs that would help medical staff and first responders, or anything that would help accelerate the research around it. Prof. Pearce elaborated:

It could be oxygen generators and ventilators, but also any type of protective equipment, disinfectant cloths, or things that lend themselves to 3D printing like swabs and pipettes, which we’ve had in the journal before.

Indeed, while the journal accepts designs of all kinds, for this special issue they are emphasising hardware that can be digitally manufactured using accessible low-cost fabrication tools like 3-D printers and those that can be readily constructed from widely accessible materials and simple tools, such as those you’d find in a DIY hardware store.

Dr. Duncombe summarized the range of designs the journal traditionally covers: “We have examples that are very complicated, but they are required to be very complicated for application for that piece of hardware. And then we have things that are very simple, such as the 3D-printed micropumps we featured a couple of years ago.”

Prof. Pearce’s team at Michigan Tech is also working on a submission of their own:

We’re specifically working on an open source ventilator design. It’s tough, even for an experienced team like ours, but we’re looking to publish in the special issue in June or July.

Hardware X also encourages its authors to use preprint services to get designs out into the world faster, though it will also be delivering quick peer review on these articles: “We’re promising five to seven days after your paper is accepted,” Prof. Pearce said, “but in my experience, it’s usually faster than that. We know that people need this. We know that we have to get it out there.”

If you have work that could help during the global pandemic submit to Hardware X for the special issue on medical equipment designs.


Ian Evans
Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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