Unveiled with pomp, color and global media attention, the much-celebrated prototype of the pneumatic ventilator made in Kenyatta University has turned out to be a faulty bicycle pump.
The device which had promised to transform the medical engineering in Kenya has turned into disappointment after it emerged that the actual prototype was simply a faulty bicycle foot pump that had a malfunctioning valve. This meant that while it functions normally by inflating or pushing air into any space where it is needed i.e bicycle tires (positive displacement), it would also pull the air out of the same space on reverse.
It came about when a student who tried to use the pump to inflate his bike realized that instead of pressurizing the tire, the pump was simply inflating and deflating the tire with each consecutive stroke. He sought help from a biomedical engineering student to repair the pump, but the when the engineering student saw what was happening simply took off with the pump and headed to the lab. Within 12 hours, they had their first prototype.
The accidental invention by the students at the University had brought a ray of hope to the country that has a severe shortage of medical ventilator in the midst of Covid-19 pandemics. At the moment, many government and nongovernmental agencies had offered to help them patent their invention and ramp up manufacturing in order to be a global leader in manufacture of ventilators. It has now been ascertained that there is nothing to patent at all.
All is not Lost
However, all is not lost since it has already been proved that a faulty bicycle pump can work as a ventilator. This means that while the university students may not be able to patent their invention since there is nothing new they have discovered, they still be able to make the ventilators and have them in use.
The accident is also some form of good news to the world because as long as any country has bicycle pumps, they are in a position to manufacture the medical ventilators for their own use. Since a bicycle pump is an open source device, the poorest countries can also jump in into immediate manufacturing and get their devices working.
The accidental invention from Kenyatta University is not the first medical discovery to have come by accident. It falls in the family of tens of other products in history, such as the X-ray, Quinine, corn flakes, super glue, the pace maker, microwave and penicillin.