The space in between: The stratosphere

We have airplanes and drones in our airspace and satellites in space, but what about the space in between: the stratosphere?

There are platforms, such as blimps, balloons and high-altitude long endurance (HALE) fixed-wing platforms that can duplicate functions now performed by drones or satellites in a more technically and commercially viable manner.

Commercial drones operate in our airspace below 400 feet. Commercial aircraft fly between 9-12km (30,000-39,000 feet). Satellites operate in low Earth orbit (LEO, 500-1200km), mid Earth orbit (MEO, 2000-36,000km) and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO, 36,000km).

But what about the vast space in between our air space and LEO? The approximately 488km of space known as the stratosphere, is, at present, largely uninhabited and underutilized.

The problem

Imagine if a platform wants to loiter over a single point on the Earth for an extended period of time, either to maintain situational awareness and consistent surveillance over an area of interest or maintain communications. For example, after a natural disaster, it would be invaluable and life saving to have eyes, ears and a voice in the sky monitoring and helping the afflicted. Or what if the platform were able to monitor a natural disaster before it made landfall to collect better data on the storm’s size, location and path?

Other reasons why it might be advantageous to have persistent real-time video from the sky is surveillance of vast maritime regions and borders, identification of objects of interest and monitoring events, including storms, fires and environmental disasters, on behalf of first responders and enforcement agencies.

Another example could be global internet connectivity. If platforms mesh together and talk to one another, they could connect the world below in a much more effective and efficient manner than ground-based fiber optic cables. It could monitor our oceans or protect vulnerable people from exploitation. And the potential military, intelligence and governmental applications are obvious and substantial.

In short, the applications are abundant and the potential market for this type of platform massive.

Possible existing solutions

Right now, the prevalent existing airborne platforms are drones and planes, and the prevalent existing space-based platforms are satellites. Each platform has various benefits, but none are optimized for many of the missions described above and, thus, do not necessarily accomplish those missions in the most efficient and effective manner.

Quadcopter drone

  • Pro: Cheap, close to the ground
  • Con: Can fly for only on average 30 minutes (unless you are using Impossible Aerospace’s US-1 that has over two hours of flight time), needs access to the ground below, small field of view from 400 feet, can be easily detected

Image Credits: Impossible Aerospace

Uncrewed plane

  • Pro: Larger field of view from 30,000 feet
  • Con: Can fly for only the number of hours fuel is available, expensive, can be detected

Image Credits: alxpin (opens in a new window) /Getty Images

Constellation of LEO satellites

  • Pro: Large field of view from 500-1,200km
  • Con: One would need hundreds or thousands of satellites in orbit for full-world coverage since the 90-minute orbits have access only over a single point on the Earth for ~15 minutes of the ~90 minute orbit; also, the satellite needs to be successfully launched from a rocket, escape Earth’s velocity and operate for years in the radioactive vacuum of space (which, while easier and less expensive than a GEO satellite, still requires a fair amount of effort and expense)

Image Credits: Spire Global

GEO satellite

  • Pro: Covers one-third of the Earth
  • Con: Large (school-bus sized), expensive (many millions of dollars), takes years (sometimes decades) to design/build/launch and does not provide the necessary low resolution or short latency

The solutions above are optimized for other types of critical missions. For example, drones are great for monitoring crops or inspecting infrastructure (as Drone Deploy software enables) or delivering emergency medical supplies (which Zipline and Google Wing are doing). Remotely-operated planes like General Atomics MQ-1 Predator have offensive military applications.

Constellations of LEO satellites in space, like Spire Global, can provide maritime, aviation and weather monitoring and prediction, or take photos of the world, as Planet Labs does. Lastly, GEO satellites can also be used for monitoring weather, communication and surveillance, but at a high level, not localized.

Possible future solutions

There are a handful of companies working on solutions specifically optimized for the mission of loitering over a single point. These solutions include balloons, blimps and HALE (high-altitude long endurance) platforms in the stratosphere.

Balloons


Image Credits: WorldView

Companies like Loon, WorldView and WindBorne use air currents in the stratosphere to loiter over a single point. Their platforms have no propulsion on board and the structure consists of two balloons, a lift and a ballast balloon. The lift balloon contains either helium or hydrogen and is sealed with special UV-coated material. They use a compressor to add or remove air from the ballast balloon so that it becomes lighter or heavier to make the balloon go up or down depending on wind speed and direction and which air current they would like to ride.

  • Pro: You cannot see these balloons from the ground with the naked eye or with most types of current ground-based tracking systems. They are fairly cheap, can be launched easily and can loiter over a single area for days or even months at a time.
  • Con: Without propulsion, balloons are difficult to navigate through intense stratospheric winds, so it might be hard to precisely navigate and keep the balloons over the specific area of interest. The balloons are not recoverable when the flight terminates, although when the balloon bursts and returns to Earth you might be able to recover the payload.

Blimps

Image Credits: MR1805 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

  • Pro: They are fairly large so they can carry heavier payloads and provide more power to the payload. You can re-land the entire platform to either fix or recover the payload, and launch it multiple times.
  • Con: They can be seen from the ground because they are so large, which makes them vulnerable to being shot down. Companies like Sceye and Altaeros are using the Goodyear Blimp with some tech upgrades. Their airships either have propulsion or are tied to the ground below, so they can better control where they are going, and they have upgraded UV and ozone-resistant skin.

HALE fixed-wing

Companies like Zenith and Skydweller are working on high-altitude long endurance (HALE) fixed-wing platforms. These high-aspect-ratio aircraft (which means long but slender wings) are powered by sunlight hitting the solar panels on the wings. The power that is generated can either power the plane and payload or be stored in the batteries. Therefore, if enough power is generated and stored during the day to last throughout the night, the plane can fly indefinitely.

  • Pro: They can be precisely controlled by a pilot.
  • Con: They have limited power for the payload, as most of the power generated is needed to power the aircraft.

*TRL: technology readiness level

For all of these platforms, there will be additional challenges in the areas of manufacturing and mission management. The platforms need to be manufactured and launched cheaply, quickly and reliably. This takes time and money. Additionally, there are issues relating to who will monitor the platforms once they are in the stratosphere — the company that built the platform or the customers whose payload the platform is holding?

Another issue that platforms that operate in the stratosphere will face relates to who regulates the stratosphere. Obviously, putting and operating platforms in the stratosphere raises a number of regulatory and legal questions that will have to be resolved.

I believe there is enough room in this market (and certainly in the stratosphere) for all of these platforms to be successful. They complement existing platforms such as drones and satellites and, for certain critical missions, can be more effective and efficient than their counterparts that operate in the airspace or in LEO/GEO.

Henry Ford Health System to conduct first large U.S. study of hydroxychloroquine’s ability to prevent COVID-19

Despite false assertions by the President to the contrary, any potential treatments to counter or prevent COVID-19 are still only at the stage of early investigations, which include one-off treatment with special individual case authorizations, and small-scale clinical examinations. Nothing so far has approached the level of scrutiny needed to actually say anything definitively about their actual ability to treat COVID-19 or the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it, but the first large-scale U.S. clinical study for one treatment candidate is seeking volunteers and looking to get underway.

The study will be conducted by the Henry Ford Health System, which is seeking 3,000 volunteers from healthcare and first responder working environments. Depending on response, the researchers behind the study are looking to begin as early as next week. Study lead researcher Dr. William W. O’Neil said in a press release announcing the study that the goal is to seek a more definitive scientific answer to the question of whether or not hydroxychloroquine might work as a preventative medicine to help protect medical frontline workers with greater risk exposure from contracting the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine (as well as chloroquine) has been in the spotlight as a potential COVID-19 treatment due mostly to repeated name-check that President Trump has given the drug during his daily White House coronavirus task force press briefings. Trump has gone too far in suggesting that the drug, which is commonly used both as an anti-malarial, and in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, could be an effective treatment and should be thrust into use. At one point, he claimed that he FDA had granted an emergency approval for its use as a COVID-19 treatment, but Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified that it was not approved for that use, and that clinical studies still need to be performed to evaluate how it works in addressing COVID-19.

Studies thus far around hydroxychloroquine have been small-scale, as mentioned. One, conducted by researchers in France, produced results that indicated the drug was effective in treating those already infected, particularly when paired with a specific antibiotic. Another, more recent study from China showed that there was no difference in terms of viral duration or symptoms when comparing treatment with hydroxychloroquine with treatment using standard anti-viral drugs, already a common practice in addressing cases of the disease.

This Henry Ford study looks like it could provide better answers to some of these questions around the drug, though the specific approach of seeking to validate prophylactic (preventative) use will mean treatment-oriented applications will still have to be studied separately. The design of the study will be a true blind study, with participants split into three groups that receive “unidentified, specific pills” (possibly anti-virals or some equivalent); hydroxychloroquine; or placebo pills, respectively. They won’t know which they’ve received, and they’ll be contacted by researchers running the study weekly, then in-person both at week four and week eight to determine if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, or any side effects from the medication. They’ll get regular blood draws, and the results will be compared to see if there’s any difference between each cohort in terms of how many contracted COVID-19.

These are frontline healthcare workers, so in theory they should unfortunately be at high risk of contracting the disease. That, plus the large sample size, should provide results that provide much clearer answers about hydroxychloroquine’s potential preventative effects. Even after the study is complete, other competing large-scale trials would ideally be run to prove out or cast doubt on these results, but we’ll be a better position than we are now to say anything scientifically valid about the drug and its use.

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be colocated at a physical workplace even while social distancing and physical isolation measures are in place.

The devices, called simply the “Proof of Health” wearables, aim to provide contact tracing – in other words, monitoring the potential spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person – at the level of a local workplace facility. The intention is to give employers a way to hopefully maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to hopefully curtail any local spread before it becomes an outsized risk.

The hardware includes passive GPS location-tracking, as well as proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE. It also includes a manual control to change a wearer’s health status, recording states like certified health, symptomatic, and verified infected. When a user updates their state to indicate possible or verified infection, that updates others they’ve been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management. That’s designed for internal use within an organization for now, but Cheney tells me he’s working now to see if there might be a way to collaborate with WHO or other external health organizations to potentially leverage the information for tracing across enterprises and populations, too.

These are intended to come in a number of different form factors: the pebble-like version that exists today, which can be clipped to a lanyard for wearing and displaying around a person’s neck; a wrist-worn version with an integrated adjustable strap; and a card format that’s more compact for carrying and could work alongside traditional security badges often used for facility access control. The pebble-like design is already in production and 2,000 will be deployed now, with a plan to ramp production for as many as 10,000 more in the near future using the company’s Poland-based manufacturing resources.

Estimote has been building programmable sensor tech for enterprises for nearly a decade and has worked with large global companies, including Apple and Amazon . Cheney tells me that he quickly recognized the need for the application of this technology to the unique problems presented by the pandemic, but Estimote was already 18 months into developing it for other uses, including in hospitality industries for employee safety/panic button deployment.

“This stack has been in full production for 18 months,” he said via message. “We can program all wearables remotely (they’re LTE connected). Say a factory deploys this – we write an app to the wearable remotely. This is programmable IoT.

“Who knew the virus would require proof of health vis-a-vis location diagnostics tech,” he added.

Many have proposed technology-based solutions for contact tracing, including leveraging existing data gathered by smartphones and consumer applications to chart transmission. But those efforts also have considerable privacy implications, and require use of a smartphone – something that Cheney says isn’t really viable for accurate workplace tracking in high-traffic environments. By creating a dedicated wearable, Cheney says that Estimote can help employers avoid doing something “invasive” with their workforce, since it’s instead tied to a fit-for-purpose device with data shared only with their employers, and it’s in a form factor they can remove and have some control over. Mobile devices also can’t do nearly as fine-grained tracking with indoor environments as dedicated hardware can manage, he says.

And contact tracing at this hyperlocal level won’t necessarily just provide employers with early warning signs for curbing the spread earlier and more thoroughly than they would otherwise. In fact, larger-scale contact tracing fed by sensor data could inform new and improved strategies for COVID-19 response.

“Typically, contact tracing relies on the memory of individuals, or some high-level assumptions (for example, the shift someone worked),” said Brianna Vechhio-Pagán of John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab via a statement. “New technologies can now track interactions within a transmissible, or ~6-foot range, thus reducing the error introduced by other methods. By combining very dense contact tracing data from Bluetooth and UWB signals with information about infection status and symptoms, we may discover new and improved ways to keep patients and staff safe.”

With the ultimate duration of measures like physical distancing essentially up-in-the-air, and some predictions indicating they’ll continue for many months, even if they vary in terms of severity, solutions like Estimote’s could become essential to keeping essential services and businesses operating while also doing the utmost to protect the health and safety of the workers incurring those risks. More far-reaching measures might be needed, too, including general-public-connected, contact-tracing programs, and efforts like this one should help inform the design and development of those.

NASA issues agency-wide crowdsourcing call for ideas around COVID-19 response

There’s crowdsourcing a problem, and then there’s crowdsourcing a problem within NASA, where some of the smartest, most creative and resourceful problem-solvers in the world solve real-world challenges daily as part of their job. That’s why it’s uplifting to hear that NASA has issued a call to its entire workforce to come up with potential ways the agency and its resources can contribute to the ongoing effort to with the current coronavirus pandemic.

NASA is using its crowdsourcing platform NASA @ WORK, which it uses to internally source creative solutions to persistent problems, in order to collect creative ideas about new ways to address the COVID-19 crisis and the various problems it presents. Already, NASA is engaged in a few different ways, including offering supercomputing recourses for treatment research, and working on developing AI solutions that can help provide insight into key scientific investigations that are ongoing around the virus.

There is a degree of specificity in the open call NASA put to its workforce: It identified key areas where solutions are most urgently needed, working together with the White House and other government agencies involved in the response, and determined that NASA staff efforts should focus on addressing shortfalls and gaps in the availability of personal protective equipment, ventilation hardware, and ways to monitor and track the coronavirus spread and transmission. That’s not to say NASA doesn’t want to hear solutions about other COVID-19 issues, just that these are the areas where they’ve identified the most current need.

To add some productive time-pressure to this endeavor, NASA is looking for submissions from staff on all the areas above to be made via NASA @ WORK by April 15. Then there’ll be a process of assessing what’s most viable, and allocating resources to make those a reality. Any products or designs that result will be made “open source for any business or country to use,” the agency says – with the caveat that this might not be strictly possible in all cases depending on the specific technologies involved.

ImmunityBio and Microsoft team up to precisely model how key COVID-19 protein leads to infection

An undertaking that involved combining massive amounts of graphics processing power could provide key leverage for researchers looking to develop potential cures and treatments for the novel coronavirus behind the current global pandemic. Immunotherapy startup ImmunityBio is working with Microsoft’s Azure to deliver a combined 24 petaflops of GPU computing capability for the purposes of modelling, in a very high degree of detail, the structure o the so-called “spike protein” that allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 to enter human cells.

This new partnership means that they were able to produce a model of the spike protein within just days, instead of the months it would’ve taken previously. That time savings means that the model can get in the virtual hands of researchers and scientists working on potential vaccines and treatments even faster, and that they’ll be able to gear their work towards a detailed replication of the very protein they’re trying to prevent from attaching to the human ACE-2 proteins’ receptor, which is what sets up the viral infection process to begin with.

The main way that scientists working on treatments look to prevent or minimize the spread of the virus within the body is to block the attachment of the virus to these proteins, and the simplest way to do that is to ensure that the spike protein can’t connect with the receptor it targets. Naturally-occurring antibodies in patients who have recovered from the novel coronavirus do exactly that, and the vaccines under development are focused on doing the same thing pre-emptively, while many treatments are looking at lessening the ability of the virus to latch on to new cells as it replicates within the body.

In practical terms, the partnership between the two companies included a complement of 1,250 NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs designed for use in machine learning applications from a Microsoft Azure cluster, working with ImmunityBio’s existing 320 GPU cluster that is tuned specifically to molecular modeling work. The results of the collaboration will now be made available to researchers working on COVID-19 mitigation and prevention therapies, in the hopes that they will enable them to work more quickly and effectively towards a solution.

DeepMind’s Agent57 AI agent can best human players across a suite of 57 Atari games

Development of artificial intelligence agents tends to frequently be measured by their performance in games, but there’s a good reason for that: Games tend to offer a wide proficiency curve, in terms of being relatively simple to grasp the basics, but difficult to master, and they almost always have a built-in scoring system to evaluate performance. DeepMind’s agents have tackled board game Go, as well as real-time strategy video game StarCraft – but the Alphabet company’s most recent feat is Agent57, a learning agent that can beat the average human on each of 57 Atari games with a wide range of difficulty, characteristics and gameplay styles.

Being better than humans at 57 Atari games may seem like an odd benchmark against which to measure the performance of a deep learning agent, but it’s actually a standard that goes all the way back to 2012, with a selection of Atari classics including Pitfall, Solaris, Montezuma’s Revenge and many others. Taken together, these games represent a broad range of difficulty levels, as well as requiring a range of different strategies in order to achieve success.

That’s a great type of challenge for creating a deep learning agent because the goal is not to build something that can determine one effective strategy that maximizes your chances of success every time you play a game – instead, the reason researchers build these agents and set them to these tasks at all is to develop something that can learn across multiple and shifting scenarios and conditions, with the long-term aim of building a learning agent that approaches general AI – or AI that is more human in terms of being able to apply its intelligence to any problem put before it, including challenges it’s never encountered before.

DeepMind’s Agent57 is remarkable because it performs better than human players on each of the 57 games in the Atari57 set – previous agents have been able to be better than human players on average – but that’s because they were extremely good at some of the simpler games that basically just worked via a simple action-reward loop, but terrible at games that required more advanced play, including long-term exploration and memory, like Montezuma’s Revenge.

The DeepMind team addressed this by building a distributed agent with different computers tackling different aspects of the problem, with some tuned to focus on novelty rewards (encountering things they haven’t encountered before), with both short- and long-term time horizons for when the novelty value resets. Others sought out more simple exploits, figuring out which repeated pattern provided the biggest reward, and then all the results are combined and managed by an agent equipped with a meta-controller that allows it to weight the costs and benefits of different approaches based on which game it encounters.

In the end, Agent57 is an accomplishment, but the team says it can stand to be improved in a few different ways. First, it’s incredibly computationally expensive to run, so they will seek to streamline that. Second, it’s actually not as good at some of the simpler games as some simpler agents – even though it excels at the the top 5 games in terms of challenge to previous intelligent agents. The team says it has ideas for how to make it even better at the simpler games that other, less sophisticated agents, are even better at.

Color is launching a high-capacity COVID-19 testing lab and will open-source its design and protocols

Genomics health technology startup Color is doing its part to address the global COVID-19 pandemic, and has detailed the steps its taking to support expansion of testing efforts in a new blog post and letter from CEO Othman Laraki on Tuesday. The efforts include development of a high-throughput lab that can process as many as 10,000 tests per day, with a turnaround time of within 24 hours for reporting results back to physicians. In order to provide the most benefit possible from the effort of standing this lab up, Color will also make the design, protocols and specifics of this lab available open-source to anyone else looking to establish high-capacity lab testing.

Color’s lab is also already nearly ready to begin processing samples – it’s going live “in the coming week,” according to Laraki. The Color team worked in tandem with MIT’s Broad Institute, as well as Harvard and Weill Cornell Medicine to develop its process and testing techniques that can allow for higher bandwidth results output vs. standard, in-use methods.

The focus of Color’s efforts in making this happen have been on using automation wherever possible, and seeking techniques that source parts and components, including reagents, that can come from different supply chains. That’s actually a crucial ingredient to being able to ramp efforts at scale nationally and globally, since if everyone is using the same lab processing methods, you’re going to run up against a bottle neck pretty quickly in terms of supplies. Being able to process tens of thousands of tests per day is great on paper, but it means nothing if one ingredient you need to make that happen is also required by every other testing lab in the country.

Color has also made efforts to address COVID-19 response in two other key areas: testing for front-line and essential workers, and post-test follow-up and processing. To address the need for testing for those workers who continue to operate in public-facing roles despite the risks, Color has redirected its enterprise employee base to providing, in tandem with governments and employers, onsite clinical test administration, lab transportation and results reporting with patient physicians.

For its post-test workflow, Color is working to address the challenges reported by other clinicians and health officials around how difficult it is to be consistent and effective in following up on the results of tests, as well as next steps. So the company is opening up their own platform for doing so, which they’ve re-tooled in response to their experience to date, and making that available to any other COVID-19 testing labs for free use. These resources include test result reporting, guidelines and instructions for patients, follow-up questionnaires around contact tracing, and support for how to reach out to potentially exposed individuals tied to a patient who tests positive.

To date, Color says that its been able to operate at cost, in part backed by support by philanthropic public and private donations. The company is encouraging direct outreach via its covide-response@color.com email in case anyone thinks they can contribute to, or benefit from the project and the resources being made available.

Leading VCs discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the world of digital health

In December 2019, Extra Crunch spoke to a group of investors leading the charge in health tech to discuss where they saw the most opportunity in the space leading into 2020.

At the time, respondents highlighted startups in digital therapeutics, telehealth and mental health that were improving medical practitioner efficiency or streamlining the distribution of care, amongst a variety of other digital health markets that were garnering the most attention.

In the months since, the COVID-19 crisis has debilitated national healthcare systems and the global economy. Weaknesses in healthcare systems have become clearer than ever, while startups and capital providers have struggled to operate while wide swaths of the market effectively shut down.

Given significant volatility and the rapid changes seen in the worlds of healthcare, venture and startups broadly, we wanted to understand which inefficiencies might have been brought to light, what new opportunities might exist for founders looking to reduce friction in healthcare systems, how digital health startups have been impacted and how health tech investing as a whole has changed.

We asked several of the VCs who participated in our last digital health survey to update us on how COVID-19 is impacting digital health startups and broader healthcare systems around the world:

Annie Case, Kleiner Perkins

Our current unprecedented global crisis has put a spotlight on digital health. In the last few weeks alone, we have seen what feels like a decade’s worth of societal and regulatory changes that require digital health companies to step up and embrace new challenges and opportunities.

Medtronic is sharing its portable ventilator design specifications and code for free to all

Healthcare and biomedical engineering company Medtronic, which was in the news recently because Tesla CEO Elon Musk had discussions with the company about the automaker’s potential plans to build ventilator hardware in order to , but today it’s doing something potentially far more impactful. Medtronic is making the full design specifications, produce manuals, design documents, and in the future, software code for its Puritan Bennett (PB) 560 portable ventilator hardware available to anyone.

The PB 560 ventilator has a number of advantages, being a relatively compact and lightweight piece of equipment that can be easily moved around in installed for use in a range of different healthcare environments and settings. And it’s a design that was originally introduced in 2010, so it has a decade of qualified, safe medical use in treating patients under its belt.

There are plenty of efforts underway to produce ventilators, design new ventilators that manufacturers of other devices, like Dyson, can put into production, and others are trying to modify existing hardware to serve more patients. But this move by Medtronic makes freely available everything needed to spin up new production lines at existing manufacturers around the world – without any costs or fees owed to Medtronic.

It’s still obviously true that retooling a production line to build a different product is going to be an undertaking no matter what kind of design specifications you’re starting with, but this initiative by Medtronic is also intended to provide the resources necessary for anyone looking at what they can build today with a blueprint to spawn new and innovative ideas. Manufacturers might be able to look at Medtronic’s proven design and engineer something they can build at scale relatively quickly that offers the same or similar performance characteristics.

Medtronic says the design is particularly well-suited for “inventors, startups, and academic institutions” looking to spin up production in short order and create their own adapted designs.

“We are sharing the design specifications for the [PB 560] to enable participants across industries to evaluate options for rapid ventilator manufacturing to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19,” said John Jordan, External Communications Director at the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic.

He pointed out that while Medtronic produces other, more complex ventilator hardware, including the PB 980 and PB 840, these require “more than 1,500 components” that Medtronic sources from a variety of specialized producers, and that relies on “a skilled and specialized workforce” and “an interconnected global supply chain.” While those things remain true even for the PB 560 to some extent, its smaller, simplified design makes it the best candidate for companies newer to the field looking to pivot to ventilator manufacture with limited or no prior experience.

It’s worth noting that Medtronic isn’t open-sourcing the PB 560’s design exactly: it’s issuing a special “permissive license” specifically for the purposes of address this global coronavirus pandemic, and its term ends either when the World Health Organization’s official Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is declared over, or on October 1, 2024 – whichever comes first.

Still, it’s a sign of the extent and seriousness of the COVID-19 crisis that for-profit corporations like Medtronic would even consider doing something like making a code technology they’ve developed free for broad public use, even if only for a fixed timeframe.

Any startup or hardware maker interested in checking out the plans for the PB 560 and potentially using them to build their own equipment can register here to agree to the license and get access to the files.

Alphabet’s Verily debuts a COVID-19 community testing toolkit as it scales its own testing efforts

While the origins of its coronavirus testing program were muddled by President Trump’s misleading announcements attributing its efforts to Google and inflating its scale, Alphabet’s Verily health sciences subsidiary has established and grown its community-based California testing initiative, deploying drive-up testing sites and ramping the number of tests completed from just over 1,200 last Wednesday to over 3,700 as of Saturday.

The Verily team detailed its progress in a new blog post, and CNBC reported last week that it has brought on 1,000 new volunteers from Google and other Alphabet companies to help increase its testing efforts and bring testing sites to new areas. In total, there are four testing sites in operation across California, which took two weeks to set up.

That’s a lot accomplished in not a lot of time, and Verily now wants to pass on the benefits of its experience and lessons learned. It put together guidelines and resources for anyone else looking to set up a community-based testing initiative (assuming they have access to qualified laboratories, testing supplies and healthcare professionals) and provided them for anyone to download.

The guide includes various documents, including workflows for everyone involved in the drive-through testing process, as well as the type of personal protective equipment needed, and how to organize and deploy on-site staff. There’s even full testing signage kits ready for download and printing.

These guide materials were created by Verily’s Project Baseline team, working in partnership with California’s Department of Public Health and other state governing and regulatory bodies, and they represent input from Stanford Medicine as well. Overall, the guide is intended as a way to help Verily spread the benefit of its experience, at a pace that it just can’t match via its own efforts to scale.

The company is definitely still looking to scale its own testing sites, however, and to launch new ones. This guide could help others make the most of its experience as it does so, though they’ll require a lot of access to specialized resources to replicate, even with the benefit of information shared by a team with first-hand knowledge of the challenges that mobile COVID-19 testing entails.