HPU students design a low-cost solution for protecting healthcare workers

Students design a low-cost solution for protecting frontline workers from airborne illnesses

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Talk about a class project.

Hawaii Pacific University engineering majors Alyssa Lawton and Ernesto Arizala recently designed and built a low-cost version of a positive air pressure respirator for a school assignment.

Arizala described it this way: “Basically, it’s just a full-face scuba snorkel mask outfitted with some other components.”

The mask is just a prototype, but the students believe with a few tweaks it could be useful in protecting emergency personnel from COVID and other airborne illnesses.

“I think a bunch of our frontline workers could definitely use this mask because it ensures that there are no respiratory droplets entering the mask, which ensures the user’s safety,” Lawton said.

Engineering Professor Bob Nakata gave them the assignment last April, early in the pandemic. Students were asked to design and build something that had real-world applications.

“It was the aerosolization that concerned me. So clearly any type of respirator would protect the end user,” Nakata said.

Sensors inside and outside the mask measure air pressure. LED lights warn of any leaks or breaks in the airtight seal.

Arizala built it and tested it using a CPAP machine. Lawton designed the software. They collaborated through Zoom calls.

“That was kind of the process of how we worked together, always sending stuff back and forth,” Arizala said.

“I would send over my code. He would double check that it worked. And we would fix it,” Lawton said.

Nakata is impressed by the final product.

“They demonstrated their knowledge of the technology, and more importantly they came up with an application that was extremely timely,” he said.

The students used off-the-shelf components. They could make it portable and more sophisticated if they can find a company interested in their device.

“After rigorous testing and improvements on our end I’d love to take it to market,” Arizala said.

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