Hacking to Heal

Every day there’s a new development in the global story that is the coronavirus. And because a lot of those developments are distracting, you might not notice the many that are also deeply hopeful. People around the globe are working day and night on products that could ease the burden on the medical community and mitigate the suffering of the people. It’s a scary time, but also one of solidarity and humanity — of kindness and mutual concern. It’s extraordinary to witness.


This week, engineers at MIT released a free, open-source app called Private Kit: Safe Paths. The app shares data between people’s phones, to let them know if they’ve crossed paths with someone infected with COVID-19.People who’ve tested positive can share that information within the app, or opt to share with public health officials, who can then make it public. The app then sends users notifications on which locations have had a confirmed coronavirus case. Private Kit, created in conjunction with team members from Harvard, Facebook, Mayo Clinic, along with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, means not only could individuals be aware of their proximity to carriers, but cities could be more targeted in their lockdowns.

Rather than shutting down entire towns, only areas with confirmed cases would need to be closed. But it only works if people use it. This app, along with so much else right now, requires that we come together and each do our part as members of the global community. You can download the iOS or Android prototype version here. There’s a push/pull between safety and privacy, and we understand if the idea of an app that tracks the sick is a little disturbing. But South Korea’s remarkable success in lowering the transmission and mortality rate from coronavirus has happened partly because of their vigilance in tracking known carriers of the virus.


One of the most immediate issues facing the global medical community is the shortage of equipment. But 3D printing might be the answer, at least for one hospital. Cristian Fracassi, a chief executive at Isinnova and mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli teamed up to aid the hospital\\’s need for new valves. They partnered with local 3D-printing company Lonati and churned out 100 respirator valves for the 250 ICU patients depending on them. They’re not the only ones. The Czech Republic’s Prusa Research has developed and prototyped a 3D printable face shield for frontline medical workers to protect their faces against the coughs and sneezes of patients in their care. You can read more about it here. Barcelona’s BCN3D printer farm is offering its printers and expertise to help bring any scientifically validated project to fruition. In a blog post they said:

"[These] last days, in the midst of some of the most difficult times many of us have ever faced, with a global pandemic taking lives and forcing us all to take drastic measures to prevent the Covid-19 virus from disseminating further, there have been many rays of light in the form of innovators worldwide, who are putting their ideas and energy into the task of developing new ways to help those in need."

Massachusetts printing farm Formlabs has set up a support network
to connect projects in need with experts willing to help. If you’re interested in volunteering time or parts or have a project you need help with, fill out their form here.Finally, the largest-scale mobilization of 3D-printing experts is American/Chilean manufacturer Copper 3D’s extraordinary effort NanoHack. Their hashtag, #HackThePandemic, aims to activate as many resources around the world as possible to print and distribute critical (and critically scarce) N95 masks. The pattern was designed to be printed flat and assembled easily, with simple elements and procedures. You can make your own here.


The last thing this week is less tech news and more mental health. Now, we’ve been a fully distributed company since our inception 12 years ago. So we’re all used to the odd solitude of home-based professional lives. But that doesn’t mean sheltering in place isn’t hard. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social disconnect, though. Even just grabbing a drink and hanging out on Skype with your best friend for an hour can make life feel a little more “normal.” Netflix now offers online watch parties, so you can binge-watch Babylon Berlin with your besties while being safe.

Stay in. Reach out. We’ll get through it.

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