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Last updated: 07 Apr, 2020  

Nikhil.9.thmb.jpg This startup leads India's race to build low-cost ventilators

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Gokul Bhagabati | 07 Apr, 2020
Sensing the critical need of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, a bunch of engineers associated with an Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur)-incubated company -- Nocca Robotics -- is leading the race to build low-cost ventilators in the country.

With the feedback from IIT Kanpur alumni network and support from global team of expert mentors, bio-medical engineers, doctors, R&D leaders, supply chain, MedTech business leaders, the company has already developed second iteration of the prototype and hopes to go for lab testing of the prototypes in about 8-10 days and after successful testing of those it will go for clinical trial.

These clinical trials are expected to begin in about 20 days from now once all required permissions are granted.

"We now have a second iteration of the prototype which is working very well and we are moving in the positive direction," Nikhil Kurele, Co-Founder and CEO of Nocca Robotics, told IANS over the phone from Pune.

"I will not claim that we have the final ventilator ready which we can take to hospital the next day for use, but definitely if you look at the functionalities and the different parameters which are required to cure a person with COVID-19 condition, we are achieving those parametres," Kurele said.

While around eight engineers of the company are now focusing completely on research and development of the ventilator, a team of about 15 members from IIT Kanpur and Indian Angel Network (IAN), a network of angel investors keen to invest in early stage businesses, are taking care of all other non-technical issues related to developing the ventilator, including funds, grants, acquiring the necessary permissions for testing and manufacturing.



Co-founded by Kurele and Harshit Rathore, both graduates from IIT Kanpur, Nocca Robotics, which has a nearly 8,000-square feet facility in Pune for making its robots for waterless-cleaning of solar plants, is already in talks with a few companies regarding the manufacturing of their ventilators.



"In the next step, we are planning to develop 10 pieces of market-ready prototypes. In the next week or so we will try to take these prototypes to labs for testing. In the meantime, we are also working on supply chain and logistics," Kurele said.



But the company is also facing certain challenges, especially in terms of procuring certain components needed for making these ventilators.

"But definitely we will need some support from the government on which IIT Kanpur and IAN are definitely working on.

"We are facing certain challenges in procuring some components from abroad. Semiconductor is one of them. It is something we cannot source from within India...On this front we need some help in terms of regulation, some relaxation on imports from the government," he said.

Whether Nocca Robotics will continue to make ventilators even after the COVID-19 challenge is over will depend on what its investors and mentors want, Kurele said.

"We basically make robots for waterless cleaning of solar plants. We already have two- three different robots for that and we have already deployed them in some places in Rajasthan," he said.

"Our objective is not to get into this (ventilator) business. Our objective is to fill in the gap which is there in the market and help the way we can (to fight COVID-19)," the IIT Kanpur alumnus said.

While the price of imported ventilators can go up to Rs 5 lakhs and even more, Nocca Robotics is trying to keep the price of their ventilator below Rs 50,000.

However, these ventilators will be particularly focused on treating COVID-19 patients. So they cannot fully be compared with full-fledged ventilators which cost a lot more.

Only invasive ventilators can treat COVID-19 patients, Kurele said, adding that the team first designed a non-invasive ventilator.

After getting feedback from doctors, they started working on an invasive ventilator.

"One challenge was to build the ventilators using components that are either being manufactured in India or can easily be sourced to India," Kurele said.

"The biggest challenge that the big companies that are making ventilators are facing is the supply. There are no sufficient raw materials right now because the need for ventilators is increasing multiple fold in every country and a lot of trade restrictions are being made regarding the ventilators," Kurele said.

However, there are certain components like semiconductor that will still have to be imported.

With most of the ventilators that India currently has already being occupied, India is trying to procure about 1.5- 1.7 lakh ventilators over a few months, he said.

"India currently has about 45,000-50000 ventilators, but most of them are already occupied," he said.

"Working on a war footing, a working prototype has already been developed and manufacturing will be scaled through high-quality manufacturers in both public and private sectors. We hope to get to 30,000 ventilators by May, priced at 1/10th of the global price," Saurabh Srivastava, Chairman and Co-founder at Indian Angel Network (IAN), told IANS.

Nocca Robotics has already made global headlines for their effort to build low-cost ventilators that have potential to save thousands of lives.

"We are cheering on these Indian engineers as they race to build a low-cost ventilator -- a potential game-changer for #COVID19. W/ support from @MIT engineers & production advice from a US-based company, we hope this invention succeeds & can eventually be produced at scale," US Department of State's Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells tweeted on Thursday.
 
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