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RCA designers think big to help solve Covid-19 challenges

The following article is part of a series examining how creatives in the RCA community are responding to the unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19.

As Covid-19 puts increasing pressure on healthcare systems worldwide, RCA designers have been quick to respond by developing innovative new solutions to arising challenges. From increasing the ease and speed of testing, to supporting those providing end of life care, these are some of the big ideas emerging from the RCA community.


OpenCell Covid-19 Testing
OpenCell Covid-19 Testing

OpenCell, a coworking biotechnology lab space co-founded by RCA Innovation Design Engineering alumna Helene Steiner, have launched a project to increase the speed of Coronavirus testing – a vital component in monitoring the spread of the virus. The team has developed the blueprint for a high-throughput mobile Covid-19 emergency testing lab, using lab automation to increase testing capacity to 84,000 tests per day. Constructed from cargo containers, the labs can easily be moved to any location and are designed to augment existing healthcare facilities. This helps reduce the burden on hospitals by outsourcing testing away from vulnerable people.

OpenCell is working to demonstrate proof of process by testing hardware and infrastructure. The project is open source, with the blueprint for the labs and protocols published on OpenCell’s github. This will enable the system to be adapted and adopted for scenarios worldwide.


The CoVent
The CoVent

RCA alumnus and former Chancellor Sir James Dyson developed an entirely new ventilator in 30 days. Dyson drew up the new design, the CoVent,  in collaboration with Cambridge-based medical firm The Technology Partnership. While these ventilators are no longer required in the UK, Dyson hopes that the ventilator may yet help the response in other countries, pending further investigation. 

The CoVent is bed mounted, portable and powered by the Dyson digital motor, which has been reengineered for the task. The design draws on Dyson’s air purifier expertise to deliver high-quality filtration in high-volume. 


The HELIX Centre, a joint RCA initiative with Imperial College London, has a dedicated team working on long-term end-of-life care projects. Colleagues at Central North West London (CNWL) NHS Trust have anticipated problems for families, friends, general practitioners and volunteers who may have to do more practically for the dying because of the COVID-19 crisis. Drawing on their expertise, the Helix Centre has designed a series of toolkits with CNWL and Bangor University that can be used by any and all NHS Trusts, community teams, care homes and hospices who have identified a need for reliable, informed tools to support the needs of dying people and their carers.

Click here to find out more about how the RCA community are responding to Covid-19.