Most Influential Projects 2020

28 Bridge Ventilator


For shifting trajectories to quickly deliver a new kind of emergency medical equipment

When the coronavirus first hit the United States, hospitals desperately scrambled to secure in-demand medical supplies and equipment. Virgin Orbit zeroed in on one critical need: a so-called bridge ventilator that would provide breathing support to patients with moderate COVID-19 symptoms or those who had partially recovered. These less-sophisticated, lower-cost machines would, in turn, free up traditional ventilators for severe cases requiring intensive care.

With guidance from the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, a joint force of doctors and medical experts from the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin, the Virgin team delivered its first prototype in just 15 hours. With an eye on rapid scaling, the team continued to design, test and iterate.

“I have never seen our team working harder. Never seen ideas moving quicker from design to prototype,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement at the time.

Three weeks after the project’s 30 March launch, the team secured an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin delivering units to first responders and healthcare facilities. From the start, Virgin Orbit was churning out more than 100 ventilators per week at its manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California, USA.

Virgin founder Richard Branson praised the team for working “creatively and tirelessly” to get the equipment designed, built and approved within a month.

Yet as the U.S. made its first small steps toward recovery, the virus—and the need for ventilators—was moving on to other parts of the globe. So in late May, Virgin Orbit partnered with philanthropists to bring bridge ventilator manufacturing to South Africa, allowing 1,000 devices to be distributed across the continent just as cases were starting to spike there.

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Related Sponsors and Organizations

  • Bridge Ventilator Consortium
  • University of California Irvine
  • University of Texas At Austin
  • Virgin Orbit