Virgin Orbit Bridge Ventilator

Fearing ventilator shortages at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the engineers at Virgin Orbit designed and built a machine to help patients breathe.

Virgin Orbit bridge ventilator

See the Virgin Orbit ventilator in action. Watch this video with audio descriptions.

Virgin Orbit Ventilador Puente

Observa al ventilador de Virgin Orbit en acción. Mira este video con descripciones de audio.

When people stop breathing, emergency health care providers often use a simple device called a "bag valve mask" to push air into their lungs. It works well, but manually squeezing a bag valve mask requires a lot of staff time. Patients who need long-term breathing assistance usually get hooked up to expensive mechanical ventilators.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a fear that so many patients would need help at once that we might run out of ventilators. So a local company jumped in to help. The engineers at Virgin Orbit designed a machine to squeeze a bag to pump air into a patient's lungs. It's much simpler than a sophisticated ventilator that severe COVID patients might need, but they hoped it could help patients who needed less assistance. This so-called "bridge ventilator" could free up other ventilators for people who needed them most, and let healthcare workers focus their time on more critical patients.

The idea was to use simple, easy-to-find parts to build these ventilators quickly. To build their first prototype, Virgin Orbit engineers bought a windshield wiper motor from a local auto parts store! Desperate times led to creative thinking... and a brand-new medical device.

Kevin Zagorski with Virgin Orbit ventilator prototype
Image attribution
Virgin Orbit

At the beginning of the pandemic, Virgin Orbit wanted to bring our engineering expertise to the response efforts. We worked with a physician-led group called the Bridge Ventilator Consortium to design an emergency ventilator. We quickly delivered 600 bridge ventilators to the state's stockpile of COVID response supplies.

Kevin Zagorski, engineer