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What would a high-tech Ebola suit look like?

Crowdsourced ideas could prevent the spread of the deadly virus.


Taylor Hatmaker


Posted on Nov 5, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 6:36 am CDT

What would happen if we could design protective Ebola gear from scratch? In an imaginary world where the titans of the technology cared about solving the very real world problem destroying lives and communities in West Africa, we might have developed some very capable Ebola-specific solutions to protect the healthcare workers risking their lives to treat the disease’s aggressive spread.

On OpenIDEO, the community is hard at work doing what the Googles and Facebooks of the world couldn’t be bothered to with a powerful project calling for users to “rapidly equip and empower the care community to fight Ebola.” The site is a sort of open-source design community that aims to crowdsource solutions for social good and it’s working on rethinking Ebola-specific personal protective equipment (PPE).

While there is a WHO global standard for what health workers should wear when in contact with Ebola patients, even those careful guidelines have proven insufficient to prevent exposure in the field.

Equipment utilized in countries with actual Ebola crises must be not only robust enough to prevent exposure in close quarters, but inexpensive and accessible enough to prove practical. Many of the OpenIDEO designs keep that in mind, proposing modifications to everyday equipment like this modified electric blower that could be used to cool healthcare workers confined in hot, restrictive Ebola gear.

Others take a more high-tech approach, like a design that proposes a built-in system to protect workers wearing Ebola gear from themselves:

This idea is to put reusable wrist bands on caregivers which will trigger a warning chirp if they get within 12 inches of their goggles. Because hand-to-face touching can be harmful when you’re working in this sort of environment, alerting workers could save lives. So when the wrist bands are in this close of promxity to the goggles, a sensor will create the alert. Both wristbands and goggle proximity sensor should:

  • be reusable after immersion in a mild disinfectant

  • run on inexpensive, long life industry-standard batteries

  • have increasing rate and pitch as the distance closes
  • be a fairly easy hack but it needs to be small and elegant

It just goes to show that even within the so often silo-minded tech community, the best, most impactful ideas are ones are openly shared, vetted, and brainstormed.

H/T Adafruit | Photo via Army Medicine/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Nov 5, 2014, 6:24 pm CST