Since March 2020, Melbourne-based Sentient Bionics has been working on a philanthropic project to develop a portable oxygen machine, with the aim of saving one million lives.

When COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals around the world, Sentient’s team of engineers, supervised and funded internally by CEO Dr Paul Boxer, realised that low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), unlike developed countries, don’t have access to sufficient effective oxygen resources. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 32 million people will require oxygen therapy.

Sentient is a registered charity whose vision is to create a device with social benefit, with a passionate team of engineers behind it. Aaron Duivenvoorden, lead engineer of the project, explains: “We are a small team providing a necessity that will make a big difference and have a lasting impact in the world and people’s lives!”

Sentient’s project has resulted in Sentox, a low-cost oxygen machine compact enough to fit inside a briefcase. SentOx is rugged, hand-portable and designed to WHO specs, which makes it ideal for countries who have scarce medical equipment.

Since the beginning, Sentient’s project has evolved a lot: the design has been validated and local production has started. Units have been sent to South Africa and Indonesia, where potential manufacturers partners are examining the device.

Last month, the team applied for a Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) grant, which would allow them to scale up massively and make a difference rapidly. In addition to local production, Sentient’s team hopes to be able to develop SentOx directly in the countries who need them most (Indonesia, South Africa, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea amongst others) to create a distribution network.

Sentient is calling for potential partners offering manufacturing services that have ISO 13485 certification as well as medical device experience. The company is also looking for people experienced with PCB assembly, extruded aluminium, medical products and gas separation.