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Hey engineers: These 4 COVID-19 volunteer projects need your skills

Hospitals need masks and ventilators. Small businesses need to change how they operate. If you’re versed in hardware engineering or web development, you can help.

Hey engineers: These 4 COVID-19 volunteer projects need your skills
[Photo: Kurguzova/iStock; Markus Spiske/Pexels]

Engineers at Apple recently helped develop an adjustable face shield to protect healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. By the end of this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said yesterday, the company expects to have shipped 1 million of the shields.

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But you don’t have to work at Apple to fight the spread of COVID-19. There are many ways for engineers with hardware, software, and web development skills to help, from collaborating with academics to building tools for small business owners. Here are several options to get you started.

Help MasksOn develop protective gear for medical personnel

Doctors, nurses, and EMTs are desperate for masks and other protective equipment, both for their own safety and that of their patients. Despite extraordinary efforts on the part of hospital leaders and philanthropists—witness the private jets that delivered 130,000 N95 masks from China to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, with an assist from Warren Buffett—demand for protective equipment continues to rise.

Enter newly formed nonprofit MasksOn. Volunteers from organizations including Alphabet, Verily, UC Berkeley, MIT, Mass General, and Tufts Medical have come together in this effort to engineer “durable, reusable, and sanitizable” protective equipment for medical personnel, according to the MasksOn website. Knowledge of 3D printing is a plus, though the group is also using materials like snorkel masks. Join the team using this form.

Help Tech for America develop websites for small businesses

In the last two weeks, over 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance—a number that would appear to vastly undercount the number of Americans currently out of work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of those who filed claims were former employees of small businesses, a segment of the economy that has been hard-hit by stay-at-home orders affecting nearly 75% of the country.

Coding Dojo, a coding bootcamp with locations in 10 cities, is organizing volunteers through its alumni network to help small businesses adapt for the current moment. In some cases volunteers are creating websites for small businesses, and in other cases they are adding functionality, such as the ability to accept online orders. Non-alumni can volunteer using this intake form.

Help Covid Watch develop a crowdsourced app

Testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. has been spotty at best, as hospitals turn away patients exhibiting relatively mild symptoms and labs scramble to add capacity. Many patients are “presumed COVID,” and told to recover at home as best they can.

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In the absence of testing, researchers at Stanford and the University of Waterloo are hoping that a crowdsourced mobile app could help better inform people trying to assess their symptoms and their risk, as the virus spreads. They are looking for a variety of volunteers, but in particular they are seeking mobile app developers with at least two years of experience. More information on volunteering is available here.

Help OxVent develop an open-source ventilator

For patients with severe forms of the coronavirus, ventilators are an essential lifeline. Unfortunately, they are also in short supply in some hospitals and regions.

A team of engineers and medics at the University of Oxford and King’s College London hopes to solve the problem of ventilator shortages with an open-source model they are calling OxVent. They expect to have a functional prototype in a matter of weeks, and hope to be manufacturing at scale, for less than $1,200 per device, in just a few months. While the project is relatively advanced, the team is still looking for collaborators, particularly those with expertise related to manufacturing and assembly. You can volunteer through this contact form.

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About the author

Senior Writer Ainsley Harris joined Fast Company in 2014. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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