[Vaibhav Chhabra], the co-founder of Maker’s Asylum hackerspace in Mumbai, India, starts his Remoticon talk by telling a short story about how the hackerspace rose to its current status. Born out of frustration with a collapsed office ceiling, having gone through eight years of moving and reorganizations, it accumulated a loyal participant base – not unusual with hackerspaces that are managed well. This setting provided a perfect breeding ground for the M19 effort when COVID-19 reached India, mixing “what can we do” and “what should we do” inquiries into a perfect storm and starting the 49 day work session that swiftly outgrew the hackerspace, both physically and organizationally.
When the very first two weeks of the Infinite Two Week Quarantine Of 2020 were announced in India, a group of people decided to wait it out at the hackerspace instead of confining themselves to their homes. As various aspects of our society started crashing after the direct impact of COVID-19, news came through – that of a personal protective equipment shortage, especially important for frontline workers. Countries generally were not prepared when it came to PPE, and India was no different. Thus, folks in Maker’s Asylum stepped up, finding themselves in a perfect position to manufacture protective equipment when nobody else was prepared to help.
Back at the start of the pandemic, a variety of hacker designs for life-saving machinery may have pushed the boundaries of patient safety. There are good reasons that a ventilator must pass extensive safety testing and certification before it can be attached to a patient, because were it to in some way fail, the patient would die. A year later, we have many much safer and more realistic ways to use our skills as part of the effort.
An oxygen concentrator is both surprisingly simple and imbued with a touch of magic. At its center are two columns of zeolite, a highly porous aluminosilicate mineral that performs the task of a molecular sieve. When air is pumped into the column, the zeolite traps nitrogen, leaving the oxygen-enriched remnant to be supplied onwards. There are two such columns to allow each to be on an alternate cycle of enrichment or purging to remove the accumulated nitrogen.
The point of the video is to show that such a device can be constructed from readily available parts and with common tools; as the title says it isn’t rocket science. Concentrators produced by the hackerspace coalition won’t save the world on their own, but as a part of the combined effort they can provide a useful and reliable source of oxygen that will make a significant difference in a country whose oxygen distribution network is under severe strain.