We're used to seeing travellers wearing snorkel masks to check out the gorgeous underwater world, but an Italian engineering start-up has found a remarkable alternative use for them.

A man wearing a snorkel mask
An Italian company has found a remarkable alternative use for snorkel masks © Isinnova

In a time where the world is rallying to help address the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Brescia-based company, Isinnova, has come up with an amazing innovation. When it discovered that a hospital in the crisis-hit region of Lombardy urgently needed valves for its respirators to help keep patients who require oxygen alive, it hit upon the idea of using 3D printing, which allows the digital design of parts to be quickly created layer by layer. The company contacted Decathlon, the producer and supplier of the Easybreath snorkel mask, who agreed to supply the CAD drawing of the mask.

Isinnova's engineers succeeded in reverse-engineering a 3D-printed version of the part, which is called a venturi valve, to transform the snorkel masks into emergency ventilators. Once it was proven to work, the company printed 100 of them and gave them to the hospital. New 3D-printed parts usually have to be officially certified, but emergency measures agreed at national level in Italy allowed that requirement to be waived. Isinnova has patented the innovation as the Charlotte valve and made it free to hospitals in need.

Usage by the patient is subject to the acceptance of use of an uncertified biomedical device, and they must provide a signed declaration of agreement to this condition. Healthcare facilities in difficulty will be able to purchase the Decathlon mask, and get in contact with 3D printers who could make the piece and provide it. Isinnova has clarified that its initiative is completely non-profit, and it will not receive any royalties on the valve or on the sales of Decathlon masks.

For further information on the Charlotte valve, please see Isinnova's website here.

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

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