Turning  an idea into an AerVent to protect against COVID-19

When COVID-19 cases were increasing, it was apparent that medical personnel and first responders needed more protection.

A COVID-19 task force from NYU Tandon contacted Highland Machine to walk through potential solutions. The result: an innovative way to protect front line healthcare providers.

On March 27, 2020, NYU’s Task Force met with Highland Machine to discuss how our signature hair dryers could be a key component of helping solve this problem. By reversing our commercial hairdryer’s airflow, we could filter the air exhaled by patients with COVID-19. If done correctly, it would be able to stop the virus from reaching caregivers.

Within days of our initial meeting, the first prototype, complete with a duct-taped dryer, was sent to test the concept.

It worked. On April 1, 2020, the NYU team requested more refined prototypes, and just days later, on April 6, 2020, they were delivered.

From here, the journey of innovation began.

The AerVent Development Process

The Initial Hair Dryer

COVID19 Air-VENT Drawing

The initial concept was developed using the Highland Machine Model 1500 commercial hair dryer. Instead of blowing hot air onto the patron, we re-engineered the hair dryers to remove the ambient air from the user.

Proof of Concept:

Air-VENT Proof of Concept
The first step was to test our suppositions. Our initial prototype was built, reversing the unit’s airflow. Through a simple smoke test, we proved the concept.
Air-VENT Prototype

From there, we designed the first working model. This version included a HEPA filter added to the unit’s base, a wheeled stand prepared to provide mobility, and a canopy to increase the air capture zone.

After several iterations of this model, ten units were manufactured for testing in a live environment.

While the test was positive, it identified several issues that required refinement:

  • Increase the size of the patient confinement area
  • Noise levels had to reach hospital standards
  • It had to accommodate placement both over a bed and wheelchair
  • The unit had to be portable
  • Most importantly – all infectious elements must be captured entirely and not released back into the room

Changing the Air Filtration Process

With the completion of the feasibility studies, members of the NYU COVID-19 task force worked to spin the technology out of the university and founded Aeragen.  Aeragen would now form a partnership with Highland Machine to refine the machine which is now called the AerVent.

Air-VENT Filtration System

Instead of collecting the air and pushing it through the filter, we updated the filtration system to pull the air directly through the filter. This enabled the device to be reprocessed easier as only clean are would be moving through the interior of the unit.

The Final Design

Air-VENT Use Case

After more in-hospital tests, we worked with Aeragen to make a final round of modifications to the design. These included adding: 

  • Three-stage HEPA/charcoal filter
  • Portable, small footprint
  • Battery backup to allow for wheelchair or gurney transport
  • Large clear canopy for patient comfort and medical access
  • Noise level compatible with hospital standards

We are now undergoing performance and efficacy testing with UL and performing a human factors study at Parkview Health in preparation for an emergency use authorization submission.

Innovative Partnership During COVID-19

When our healthcare system was at-risk, a talented group that had a great idea but didn’t have the design or manufacturing experience to make that idea a tangible product approached Highland Machine. By partnering together, we were able to not only develop a safer way for healthcare workers to assist patients with COVID-19, but we also formed an unexpected, meaningful partnership.

Have an idea you need help bringing to life? Contact us to see how we can partner together to transform your concept into a prodct. 


Our innovative AerVents have been making headlines. Read more about the evolution of the work we’re doing with the NYU task force and Aeragen.

NYU Tandon AirMOD and AirVent, NYU Tandon Website

AirVent: A Personal Negative Pressure Hood for Containment, Treatment, and Removal of Aerosolized Viral Contamination, NYU Tandon Website

Fears of Ventilator Shortage Unleash a Wave of Innovations, New York Times

VIDEO: AirVent Test on an Ambulance, YouTube

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