Over 1.5 million Americans are prescribed supplemental oxygen for a range of medical conditions. Although there are different options available for how outpatients receive supplemental oxygen, the issues associated with the therapeutic goals and optimal use of home oxygen continue to be assessed and are not considered solved. Patients consistently express concerns around the following issues: having an oxygen supply be lighter and more portable, making it last longer, and ensuring that they get the amount (“flow rate”) that is needed.
To address these issues, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is sponsoring the Air You Wear Challenge - a two phase challenge with a total prize purse of $500,000. In the first phase, up to 8 innovators with the most compelling ideas will each win $50,000. Only Phase 1 winners will be invited to participate in Phase 2, and they are strongly encouraged to use their prize money to help develop and demonstrate their technologies in the Phase 2 development period. At the end of Phase 2, the innovators developing the three top-performing prototypes will win $60,000, $30,000, and $10,000 respectively. In addition to awarding prizes, this challenge will also host an information webinar that is open to everyone and discusses other development opportunities, such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, in the hopes that all promising ideas will be pursued.
The goal of this challenge is to broadly stimulate research and development of processes and technologies that actively address the different outpatient issues associated with use of supplemental oxygen. If you have actionable ideas for how to improve the portability, flow rate, or duration of home oxygen supplies, we want to hear about them.
The demographic of those needing supplemental oxygen is much broader and more diverse than many of us may think. Patients can be any age - young or old. They might need long-term supplemental oxygen because they live with severe asthma, a heart condition, or chronic lung disease. Or they might only have temporary needs because they’re recovering from an acute illness, or recovering from a blood clot in the lung, or are living with cancer.
The goal of supplemental oxygen is to help these people feel better and do more, so that they can live fuller lives. While some patients’ lives are made better by the products available now, many options don’t allow patients to achieve this goal. Heavy, bulky equipment can deter physical activity, and limited battery life or limited oxygen supply can impact whether patients socialize and travel, affecting their mental health and emotional well-being. And some of the products that minimize those issues do not provide the amount of supplemental oxygen many patients need.
Patients who need to plan the logistics of supplemental oxygen so very carefully - from how many cylinders they’ll need to how long the batteries will last - may find it all just too daunting, especially if air travel is required. People, young and old, who need supplemental oxygen are missing out on birthdays, family reunions, weddings, funerals, and other compelling reasons to travel abound.
People who use supplemental oxygen and their loved ones are anxious for new options that are lighter, more portable, longer-lasting, and capable of providing the required oxygen level (flow-rate). The NIH/NHLBI is sponsoring the Air You Wear Challenge to help teams with compelling ideas to develop and demonstrate proof of concept for their innovative approaches for providing supplemental oxygen to outpatients, while promoting activity in the field and awareness of this problem to the wider community. We are interested in providing more options to outpatients. Proposed approaches can be for new devices, modifications to existing technologies, or something else entirely. If your idea has a scientific basis, will result in something that makes a meaningful difference to people on supplemental oxygen, and can be demonstrated after 7-8 months of development effort, then we want to hear from you!
This two-phase challenge will award a total prize purse of $500,000. At the end of Phase 1, up to 8 teams of one or more individuals, proposing the most compelling and impactful solutions, will each receive $50,000. Only Phase 1 winners will be invited to participate in Phase 2, and they are strongly encouraged to use their prize money to help develop a working prototype and/or demonstration of the proposed approach during the Phase 2 development period. At the end of Phase 2, up to three teams will be awarded first, second, and third prizes of $60,000, $30,000, and $10,000 respectively for the best prototypes/demonstrations.
Part of promoting activity in this field of supplemental oxygen for outpatients is providing all participants with information about other development opportunities, such as those afforded through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) and the NHLBI Innovation Office. Participants who do not advance through this challenge process are encouraged to pursue some of these other opportunities. There will be a webinar during this challenge that presents helpful information about these opportunities, including key contacts and support for writing applications.
All eligible parties are invited to participate in Phase 1 (please see the Rules section for full eligibility rules). The deadline to submit your responses is September 14, 2021. The NHLBI is interested in lightweight, portable, oxygen supply technologies that can be easily used and readily incorporated into users’ routine activities. Whatever you propose must be something that can be successfully developed and demonstrated within the 7-month Phase 2 development window.
Phase 1 submissions should be supported by a strong scientific rationale and any preliminary data available. These submissions should also include a realistic project plan that contains a reasonable budget and timeline for Phase 2 work. Finally, key hurdles should be identified and discussed.
Submissions that have passed a pre-screening step - which removes non-responsive and/or incomplete submissions - will be reviewed by the Evaluation Panel. The panel will evaluate the submissions based on their ability to achieve the Phase I evaluation criteria listed below. The panel will select up to eight of the most compelling submissions as Phase 1 winners. Teams submitting winning submissions will each receive a $50,000 award. A team is one or more individuals collaborating on and submitting a single submission. Winners are strongly encouraged to use the award to support their prototype development efforts as part of their continued participation in Phase 2 of the challenge.
Only Phase 1 winners are eligible to participate in Phase 2. The Phase 2 development period is 30 weeks long (approximately 7 months). At the start of the development period, Phase 1 winners will receive their award and will schedule a mid-point check-in with the NHLBI. It is anticipated that these mid-point check-ins will occur in April 2022. In addition to prize money won from Phase 1, Phase 2 teams will also have up to 15 hours of access to subject matter experts (SMEs). During Phase 2, teams may request time with an SME to ask for advice or seek specific information. The experts will be drawn from the NHLBI or NIH in general, depending on the specific expertise required by a team, and will be matched as closely as possible in terms of relevant expertise (recognizing that there is likely to be variation in the ability to match SMEs to specific questions due to the nature of the questions, availability of SMEs, etc). During the mid-point check-in, each team will review with the NHLBI their progress relative to the project plan submitted in Phase 1.
At the end of the Phase 2 period, each team will submit a report that contains a summary of their development efforts, any data resulting from their prototype’s demonstration activities, and a video which demonstrates how the prototype is set up and operated. The Evaluation Panel will review the reported results for impact, efficacy, and performance against the project plan. See Phase 2 evaluation criteria below for full details. Up to three of the top-performing submissions will be selected as first, second, and third place winners, and those teams will receive $60,000, $30,000, and $10,000 respectively.
In addition to the $500,000 prize purse for this challenge, see table below, there are other non-monetary incentives for participating:
Phase 1 winners will have access to subject matter experts during the Phase 2 development period to ensure that development work is well-aligned with patient needs.
At the end of Phase 2, teams with promising prototypes may be offered introductions or networking opportunities to help them get to the next stage of development.
Phase 2 winners will be recognized through a winners webinar and announcements at the NHLBI website. Additional public recognition of the winners may be offered through other organizations.
All challenge participants can receive NIH support in developing applications to compete for other NIH funding opportunities.
8 x $50,000
Phase 1 Judging Criteria
Phase 1 submissions will be scored against the following criteria:
Is the submission complete and responsive? Is the writing clear, concise, and compelling? Are the ideas and information presented thoughtfully and in an easy-to-follow manner?
Is the idea practical? How easy would it be to implement? What barriers, if any, might there be to widespread adoption among patients, prescribers, and suppliers?
How impactful is this idea? Does it have potential for use in other applications?
How creative is the overall idea? Does it attempt to solve the problem with a different approach or using different tools?
Is the submitted project plan realistic, clear, and well-thought out? Does it identify the major hurdles that must be overcome for successful prototype development? Does the project plan clearly outline the activities and milestones that must occur in order to successfully demonstrate the prototype at the end of 30 weeks?
Does the team have the necessary skills and expertise required to execute the project plan? Does the team have adequate access to resources and other experts, as needed?
Phase 2 Judging Criteria
Phase 2 submissions will be scored against the following criteria:
Oxygen Delivery Capability
Does the approach deliver supplemental oxygen as intended? How well does the prototype or demonstration address the key issues of weight, portability, duration, and flow rate?
Why will this technology enjoy widespread adoption of this approach? Form factor etc
What is the commercial potential for this approach? Are there any issues that would affect its widespread adoption? Does this technology have potential for use in other applications?
What are the next steps for further development of this technology? What are the likely major hurdles and how would they be addressed?
Does the solution deliver supplemental oxygen in a new and different manner from existing approaches? Does the form factor or the solution overall present an elegant, new option to users? Did the team overcome any development hurdles in a creative, novel manner?
Phase 1 submission form
Character limits include spaces.
Team: For each team member: please list their names, their roles/expertise, and their email addresses. Please note who is the team leader/primary point of contact. (3000 characters max)
Eligibility: Please confirm you meet the eligibility requirements for this challenge. Please note these questions do not address all eligibility requirements. Please review the Challenge Announcement for complete elgibility. (Y/N)
If you are participating as an entity, the entity shall be incorporated in the United States and also maintain a primary place of business in the United States.
Is everyone on your team a US citizen or permanent resident? Non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents can participate as members of a team that otherwise satisfies the eligibility criteria. Non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents are not eligible to win monetary prizes (in whole or in part). Their participation as part of a winning team, if applicable, may be recognized when the results are announced.
Is anyone on your team a federal entity or federal employee? Some federal employees can participate. Please see the eligibility requirements here:
Overview: Please provide an overview of your proposed approach: (1500 characters max)
What is your idea and why will it work?
How will it improve the patient’s experience?
How does your idea differ from current solutions to supplemental oxygen for outpatients?
Feasibility: Please discuss the feasibility of your idea: (6000 characters max)
What is the supporting evidence or scientific rationale for it?
What do you estimate is the technical maturity of your approach? (is it something completely new, something based on pre-existing technology, or something else)
How practical is your idea and how easy will it be for patients to use?
Is this something that will cost about the same as existing solutions?
What are potential barriers to its widespread adoption?
Impact: Please discuss the potential impact of your proposed approach: (6000 characters max)
How will it address one or more of the major patient concerns regarding supplemental oxygen? (lightweight/portable, lasts longer, and delivers the needed flow rate)
Is there potential for this approach to be used in other related or adjacent applications?
Innovation: How is your proposed approach different from existing solutions? Does the proposed approach use a novel technology, an existing technology in a novel way, or something else? (3000 characters max)
Project Plan: Please provide a complete project plan, timeline, and supporting budget. If you are a Phase 1 winner, you will be expected to execute against your project plan. Be sure to address: (4500 characters max)
How you will be able to make a demonstrable prototype within the 30 week development period
What are the major milestones and what will be the biggest hurdle in successfully developing and demonstrating your technology? How are you planning to address this hurdle?
The resources and expertise that you will need to successfully develop your proposed approach. If there are resources and/or expertise needed that are currently not available to your team, how do you plan to address these gaps?
Supplemental Information: Please upload any supporting files, such as design files, team bios or CV’s, etc.
Phase 2 Submission Form
Character limits include spaces
Overview: Please provide an overview of Phase 2 development work: (2000 characters max)
What are the key findings/results?
How did your results meet your expectations?
What are your next steps?
Performance: Please discuss in detail how your technology works. Also, please share how your approach performed in terms of: (9000 characters max)
Weight and portability
Duration of use
Flexibility for different patient needs
Usability: Please discuss the advantages your technology offers to patients. Are there potential barriers to widespread adoption by patients? (6000 characters max)
Commercial Potential: Discuss your technology’s potential for commercial success. What do you foresee as possible hurdles to commercial development? Are there other applications where this technology might be used? (3000 characters max)
Next Steps: What are the next steps for further development of your technology? What additional resources will you need to support those next steps? (3000 characters max)
Creativity: Looking at your developed solution and the development process to arrive at this point, please discuss how your solution and process demonstrate creativity by addressing at least the following points: (2000 characters max)
How is your technology different from existing supplemental oxygen options?
Why will users view this as an attractive and new option?
If you ran into any unexpected development problems, do you believe you overcame them in unusual or innovative ways?
Video - 1: Please provide the link to a video that shows your technology in action. Be sure to show both set-up and operation steps.
Video - 2: This second video is optional. Please provide a link to a 30-90 second video that is suitable for general public viewing. NIH NHLBI is interested in having this content to be able to create montages or other assets that help build awareness of this issue and of other relevant activities in the space.
Supplemental Information: Please upload any supporting files, such as design files, data sets, etc.
Supplementary Information: These academic resources have been provided to educate the competitors about the context of the challenge’s targeted problem:
An additional element of this challenge is to promote further research and attention to the overarching field of supplemental oxygen for outpatients. To achieve this end, the challenge will promote other development opportunities, such as those afforded through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) and the NHLBI Innovation Office. Participants will be encouraged to pursue some of these other opportunities and may receive NIH support in developing applications to compete for other NIH funding opportunities. Links to these two organizations are available, respectively, below:
In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in the United States and also maintain a primary place of business in the United States. In the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. However, non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents can participate as members of a team that otherwise satisfies the eligibility criteria. Non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents are not eligible to win monetary prizes (in whole or in part). Their participation as part of a winning team, if applicable, may be recognized when the results are announced.
Shall not be a federal entity or federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.
Shall not be an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), or any other component of HHS, acting in their personal capacity.
Shall, if employed by a federal agency or entity other than HHS or any component of HHS, consult with an agency ethics official to determine whether the federal ethics rules will limit or prohibit the acceptance of a prize under this Challenge.
Shall not be a judge of the Challenge, or any other party involved with the design, production, execution, or distribution of the Challenge, or the immediate family of such a party (i.e., spouse, parent, step-parent, child, or step-child).
(2) Federal grantees may not use federal funds from a grant award to develop their Challenge submissions or to fund efforts in support of their Challenge submission.
(3) Federal contractors may not use federal funds from a contract to develop their Challenge submissions or to fund efforts in support of their Challenge submission.
(4) Federal awardees may not use federal funds from an Other Transaction (OT) award to develop their Challenge submissions or to fund efforts in support of their Challenge submission.
(5) By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) agrees to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the federal government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from participation in this Challenge, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise.
(6) Based on the subject matter of the Challenge, the type of work that it will possibly require, as well as an analysis of the likelihood of any claims for death, bodily injury, property damage, or loss potentially resulting from Challenge participation, no Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) participating in the Challenge is required to obtain liability insurance or demonstrate financial responsibility in order to participate in this Challenge.
(7) By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) agrees to indemnify the federal government against third party claims for damages arising from or related to Challenge activities.
(8) A Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) shall not be deemed ineligible because the Participant used federal facilities or consulted with federal employees during the Challenge if the facilities and employees are made available to all Participants participating in the Challenge on an equitable basis.
(9) By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) warrants that he, she, or it is the sole author or owner of, or has the right to use, any copyrightable works that the submission comprises, that the works are wholly original with the Participant (or is an improved version of an existing work that the Participant has sufficient rights to use and improve), and that the submission does not infringe any copyright or any other rights of any third party of which the Participant is aware.
(10) By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) grants to the NIH an irrevocable, paid-up, royalty-free nonexclusive worldwide license to reproduce, publish, post, link to, share, and display publicly the contents of the Participant’s submission on the web or elsewhere, and a nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to practice, or have practiced for or on its behalf, the submission throughout the world. Each Participant will retain all other intellectual property rights in their submission, as applicable. To participate in the Challenge, each Participant must warrant that there are no legal obstacles to providing the above-referenced nonexclusive licenses of the Participant’s rights to the federal government. Participants will not be required to transfer their intellectual property rights to NIH; however, by participating in this Challenge, Participants grant to the federal government the nonexclusive licenses recited herein.
(11) Each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) agrees to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and policies.
(12) Each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) in this Challenge must comply with all terms and conditions of these rules, and participation in this Challenge constitutes each Participant’s full and unconditional agreement to abide by these rules. Winning is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements herein.
(13) By participating in this Challenge, each Participant (whether an individual, group of individuals, or entity) agrees to allow NHLBI to publicly display (e.g., on the web) the Participant’s submissions(s).
(14) Each individual Participant in this Challenge must be at least 18 years old.
We would also like to recognize the following honorable mentions. While these teams will not be advancing to the next stage, we would like to commend them for their noteworthy submissions:
Adaptively Controlled Oxygen Concentrator RPSA submitted by Lehigh University & The University of Alabama
Catch Your Breath! submitted by Nicholas Wynn, Diane Parry, and Carol Bennett.
The eight winning teams now have 30 weeks to develop their technology. At the end of Phase 2, the innovators developing the three top-performing prototypes will win $60,000, $30,000, and $10,000, respectively.
Congratulations once again to our Phase 1 winners!
If you're still assembling your submission, you have exactly 8 hours left to complete it!
Here's a Tip: HeroX recommends innovators plan to submit with at least a 3-hour window of time before the true deadline. Last-minute technical problems and unforeseen roadblocks have been the cause of many headaches. Don't let that be you!
There are exactly six days left to submit your solution tothe Air You Wear Challenge!
You're so close. You can do this!
Remember, the final submission deadline is September 30th at 5:00 pm EDT (New York). No submissions received after this time will be accepted, so make sure to get yours in as soon as possible. Any last-minute questions or concerns can go right in the comments section of this update.
There are only TWO WEEKS left to submit your solution for the Air You Wear Challenge. The early bird definitely gets the worm - so don't put it off! Be sure to have at least 75% of your submission complete a full week before the deadline for maximum flexibility. We'd hate to think you worked hard on a submission, just to miss the deadline by a hair.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out in the challenge forum.
We can't wait to see what your solutions look like.
State-of-the-art portable oxygen concentrator units weighing under 3 pounds currently provide 2.5 hours of oxygen on a single battery charge. This novel solution increases the efficiency of these units by up to 30% by using an AI-based approach in fan and compressor design, thus providing patients with a welcome and extended mobility window.
The team members, with extensive chemical and engineering skill sets, have an established record of success in providing practical solutions to complex problems, as exemplified by more than 32 wins in open innovation challenges.
AIRS POC with Higher Flows and Remote Monitoring, submitted by AIRS
The new Portable Oxygen Concentrator with higher flows and remote monitoring features can help ensure oxygen users are receiving the correct amount of oxygen. The concentrator remotely monitors the users and their oxygen and sends oxygen level data to the AIRS app portal. This allows a respiratory therapist to view the numbers and make recommendations as needed.
AIRS is located in Newaygo, Michigan, and its team comprises Valerie Obenchain, Diana Kasza, Greg Last, Adam Heintzelmen and Arieh Halpern. AIRS has partnered for services from in2being, Fanzoo, and Rose Medical located in Michigan.
Automatically Adjusting Smart POC, submitted by Baltimore Respiratory Innovations, LLC
Baltimore Respiratory Innovations (BRI) is developing a closed-loop, remote patient monitoring-enabled portable oxygen concentrator to provide increased oxygen supply duration and greater peace of mind to ambulatory oxygen patients and their healthcare providers.
The BRI founders met at a Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering program while conducting research into portable oxygen therapy. They bring a wealth of technical, practical, and translational knowledge to the table.
AutO2: Automating Oxygen Dosing in Real-Time, submitted by Lisa Lancaster and team
AutO2 provides automated oxygen monitoring and dosing in real time, allowing patients wearing oxygen to be free of having to constantly think about adjusting their oxygen flow rates as their activity levels change.
AutO2 is led by Lisa Lancaster, a leading expert in Interstitial Lung Disease. Her team includes Masood Machingal, an expert in tech development; George Wilson, who works on optimizeing the flow of innovation to the marketplace at Vanderbilt’s Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization; and Chris Thompson, a software developer who strategizes with complex system design.
BreatheEasy™ Anywhere, submitted by the HealO Medical Team
BreatheEasy Anywhere™ is a comprehensively improved oxygen delivery platform that boosts the oxygen delivered to the lungs. It does this by eliminating wastage of oxygen due to entrainment. The burden of carrying an oxygen concentrator is off-loaded to an easy-to-push, swivel-wheeled mobile platform that doubles as a carrier and a fall preventer. Patients can travel further and easier with a more powerful oxygen generator.
The HealO Medical team comprises a seasoned group of engineers, a project manager, and quality assurance and user interface professionals. They are led by Edward Lin, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist and creative inventor. The team has a track record of prior innovations in important leading-edge medical devices.
Recycled Air Return Oxygen Concentrator, submitted by Lost & Lucky Labs
The Recycled Air Return Oxygen Concentrator takes oxygen-rich air exhaled from the user and feeds it back through the device. Because human lungs only absorb about 5% of the provided supplemental oxygen, this exhaled air is significantly more oxygenated than the surrounding air. Allowing the concentrator to start with such oxygen-rich air allows for greater efficiencies throughout the system.
Consisting of two aerospace engineers – Steve Day and Bo Wernick – the Lost & Lucky Labs team has 20 years of collective engineering experience. The team particularly enjoys seeking out problems requiring multi-disciplined product development solutions.
RESPIRE: Provide Day-Long O2 and Fits in a Purse, submitted by Hawai'i Innovation
Current methods, such as pressure swing absorption or vacuum swing adsorption, use power-intensive pressurized systems to remove nitrogen for concentrating oxygen. In contrast, the RESPIRE selectively and stoichiometrically concentrates oxygen directly from the surrounding air, using a reversible oxygen absorber. Upon heating to 100°C, it desorbs the oxygen, which is supplied to the patient through a delivery system.
Hawai’i Innovation consists of industry and academy researchers who have more than 43 years of collective experience. Their research expertise, which includes microfabrication, electronic microdevices, microfluidics, and inorganic synthesis, uniquely positions them to drive the innovation to reality.
Thermoelectric Energy Recovery, submitted by Team Sonaphase
This solution is expected to reduce the physical size of units by 30%, while increasing the battery life by as much as 3X over existing products. It does this by leveraging an innovative thermoelectric energy recovery system in combination with a unique battery design.
This team has been professionally developing hardware-based robotics, drone, IoT, power electronics and sensor systems for the last 25 years. As an Air You Wear Challenge finalist, the team is excited for the opportunity to develop the next generation of oxygen concentrators.
The NHLBI is pleased to recognize the following honorable mentions. While these teams will not be advancing to the next stage, they should be commended for their noteworthy submissions:
Adaptively Controlled Oxygen Concentrator RPSA, submitted by Lehigh University & The University of Alabama
Catch Your Breath!, submitted by Nicholas Wynn, Diane Parry, and Carol Bennett