Reliably solving the ventilator crisis?

Representatives from governments and high profile actors in the tech world have called on companies and individuals to do their part to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We explore what we could do to help, in addition to our COVID19 CSR work.

Vinay Gupta
Mar 20, 2020 · 5 min read

At Mattereum, we have done some deep thinking in recent weeks about what part we might play. Before his role at Ethereum Foundation, running the 2015 Ethereum launch, Vinay Gupta (our CEO) worked with governments on worst case scenario pandemic flu off-and-on since 2007. Anton Shelupanov (our MD) worked on preventing TB and HIV transmission between prisons and the community, and has been working very effectively on the policy issues around coronavirus as part of the new Mattereum Coronavirus CSR project.

Open Source Hardware refugee shelters, designed by Vinay Gupta and Edmund Harriss, and built by ordinary participants at Burning Man, You can see thousands more on the satellite pictures!

Even more specific to the emergency ventilator manufacturing projects, Vinay Gupta created a large Open Source Hardware climate change refugee support project in 2002 (the Hexayurt Project), built in huge numbers at Burning Man by hobbyists, and now seen in refugee camps and festivals around the world in a second-generation design called the ShiftPod.

So, because we have quite a bit bit of experience doing open source humanitarian hardware, and infectious disease management, we are cautious. Really, really cautious. We know how hard this is to do at all, never mind to do it well. We do not want to overreach.

We have been thinking very, very carefully about what we have to offer in the current crisis, in addition to our aforementioned CSR efforts. Lives are at stake.

Mattereum’s product, the Mattereum Asset Passport, is a comprehensive digital identity for a physical object. Anyone who has detailed knowledge of any aspect of an object can attach this information to its Asset Passport in the form of a guarantee on that information being accurate (called a certification). See more of our example Mattereum Asset Passports secured on the Ethereum mainchain at

Anyone who relies on accurate representations about that object — a buyer, renter, or insurer for example — can subscribe to available certifications by paying a fee to the certifier and e-signing the accompanying contract. Certifiers can also choose to waive their fee in situations like the one we are facing in the interest of ensuring that price is not a barrier for participation.

If the information turns out to be false, certifiers are bound to pay damages under internationally accepted rules. Records of this information and these transactions are stored on the blockchain, meaning they are permanent and immutable.

This mechanism enables object information to be assembled from a wide variety of sources, while at the same time providing deterrents against false information and clear lines of accountability. Those lines of accountability are likely to be a good fit for, for example, fighting back against scammers selling substandard masks or, more specifically, ventilators of questionable mechanical reliability.

Manufacturers are changing their production, either voluntarily or by state order, in order to produce essential equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment that is currently in short supply. We’ve also seen a growing number of makers and fabrication labs taking it upon themselves to produce vital components for the cause. This is important and praiseworthy work: the challenge here is ensuring that the ventilators, oxygenators, masks, and other equipment produced meets the necessary functionality, reliability and quality standard required to save lives, and figuring out what to do when they do not.

These auxiliary manufacturers have a steep learning curve ahead of them, and it is important that they nail it and are able to prove that their products are ready to save lives.

It’s realistic but not yet certain that the Mattereum Asset Passport could help them do this. Manufacturers could create certifications on a product’s Asset Passport to state that it performs to a certain specification or meets a certain standard, and also provide the necessary supporting documentation to back up those claims. They could also provide detailed breakdowns of designs and parts, so that if necessary users could track down suitable replacements or engineer fixes. All of those later maintenance events could be recorded in the same records. To hedge against hastily made claims or deliberate misinformation, all of this data would be underpinned by proofs providing certainty of who is the responsible party if something turns out to be false.

To be clear: Mattereum are not positive that taking our technology out of Stradivarius violins, fine wine and Star Trek figures into the ventilator arena solves precisely the right problem. We’re acutely aware that hasty action can be dangerous in times like this, so we don’t want to move until we’re better acquainted with the terrain.

That said, while rushing in is bad, hanging back is also bad, in fact all options are bad, because the situation is bad. Whatever you do, you’re gonna wish you had done something different in the long run. So we are cautiously exploring this space, thinking about what is needed, and having done some thinking, we are now ready to talk. Others have moved fast: a diversity of approaches is needed.

So before we start to wade in to prototype this, we want to hear from the communities of transformation around these products to ensure that our work is as informed and helpful as possible. What challenges are you currently facing on product information systems and quality assurance? Do you think what Matteruem does would be of use to you as you push forwards to close the ventilator gap?

We would value your thoughts, positive or negative.

We are very grateful for any input we can get from those who are currently on the front line. Please get in touch on with your comments. We really want your input. has significant detail on how Mattereum works, if you would like more detailed information.

Many thanks to Dr. James Hester for his work on this concept.

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