The Bubble PAPR is a collaboration between Designing Science, Manchester University Foundation Trust and Manchester University to re-invent the Powered Air-Purifying Respirator for the Covid era.

Early on in the Covid crisis we asked long-time collaborator Brendan McGrath, (an ICU consultant at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester), whether there was anything Designing Science could do to help. The answer  came back swiftly…’design a better PAPR’.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirators were used in some ICUs in the UK but the current models seemed to be re-purposed industrial devices, - bulky, hard to clean and expensive. Not fit-for-purpose for infection control in a Covid ward.

So Designing Science began a crash program to develop something better, working with experienced designers Andy Spragg and Andrew Forbes.

We quickly focused on the concept of a simple, head-worn device which minimised the exposure of re-usable parts to covid bearing aerosols by containing, nearly everything, within a disposable hood.

Over the following hard weeks of intensive iterative design and prototyping we refined the concept, developing a custom impeller which could be driven by a 5V DC motor and capable of generating the flows we needed to keep the hood inflated and the wearer cool and ventilated.

Donning and doffing PPE in Covid wards is an exacting and intricate process which must be carried out with discipline. Lockdown restricted our user research to video-conferencing but we were able to understand user and environmental needs and design a solution which supported good practice.

We had to overcome many design challenges to create a working design. For example, regulations dictated the need for a low-flow indicator, but our intention to avoid electronics meant that we had to develop a mechanical solution. Hence the creation of a ground-breaking mechanical low-flow sensor, consisting of a handful of mechanical parts. It is sensitive enough to respond to reductions in airflow and alerts the wearer when flow drops below a threshold. 

The Bubble PAPR underwent usability and technical trials at Manchester University Foundation Trust and in 2023 won a prestigious award from the Society of Anaesthetists. A paper detailing it development and testing was published in the BMJ in May 2023