Ventilators are highly complex pieces of technology. Unlike most technology we use, however, they also have to work right every time. Right now, they happen to be in high demand as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which explains why a handful of companies have agreed to lend their expertise in producing them at scale.
A few weeks ago, Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, said the company would produce ventilators "if needed." It didn't take long to recognize that there was, in fact, a need, and the company yesterday revealed a prototype built out of parts from its Model 3 in a YouTube video.
The video walks through the design the company used, the layout of the breathing mechanism, as well as a finished prototype that uses a Model 3 touchscreen display and infotainment computer to control the ventilator. The display shows a custom user interface that not only shows the patient's breathing pattern but also highlights changes to quickly indicate whether the patient's condition is deteriorating.
"We want to use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of, and we can go really fast, and they're available in volume," said, Joe Mardall, Tesla's engineering director. Another engineer in the video said Telsa is focusing on using its own parts so as not to disrupt the supply of medical components to other manufacturers.
Unlike fellow automakers, Ford and GM, who have partnered with other companies to help lend their expertise, Telsa has developed an entirely new ventilator in house. I wrote last month about how Dyson designed a new ventilator in just 10 days, and now it appears Tesla has taken the same approach. That's impressive considering the urgency of producing thousands of devices in a short timeframe.
That doesn't take anything away from what Ford and GM are doing, but it's worth highlighting the companies' different approaches. "There's still a lot of work to do, but we're giving it our best effort to see if we can help some people out," said one of the Tesla engineers in the video.
Which, in case it isn't obvious, is the point. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, not just for individual companies, but for all of us. You might not be making ventilators out of car parts, but there's a pretty good chance you're working on something right now that will make a difference to your company, your team, your customers, and your community.
It comes as no surprise that a company like Tesla, which produces some of the most advanced vehicles on the road, would come up with a creative way to build a ventilator. That's the lesson, by the way. Sometimes the best way to do something new is to repurpose what you already know.