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Pandemic leads to a spike in frugal innovation

As the world comes to grips with the global pandemic of COVID 19 and the increased needs for medical equipment, we are seeing awesome examples of using innovation frugally to meet those needs.

Arbutus Medical grew out of a program at UBC’s Engineering program, and today students in that same program have produced a low-cost ventilator design that is a perfect example of the same kind of frugal innovation that created our DrillCover technology and our company. 

ventilator01The UBC team developed a simple, low-cost COVID-19 ventilator built around
a modified BiPAP machine. Their design is a finalist in an international competition to design a ventilator that can be manufactured easily anywhere in the world and adheres to compliance specifications.

Originators of the term “frugal innovation,” Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu in their book Frugal Innovation define the term as a disruptive growth strategy that aims to create significantly more business and social value while drastically reducing the use of energy, capital, and time. It’s not just about doing more with less but about doing better with less.

The UBC designed ventilator starts with the BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which has been used for years to treat sleep apnea. Starting with an approved medical technology allowed the team to focus on software and adding specific low-cost parts to create a life support tool for people being treated for the novel coronavirus. Their approach brings the cost of a ventilator to only a few thousand dollars, down from the $25-$50K a conventional ventilator would cost.

Necessity is, of course, the mother of inventions, but frugal innovation is also the result of ingenious approaches to design on budget. Arbutus Medical is all about frugal innovation and bringing safe surgical tools to market at significantly reduced costs.