About the challenge

College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University
BGI Genomics Co., Ltd.
Shanghai Etopia Building Technology Co., Ltd.

The novel coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019 expanded globally at a rate that was difficult to mitigate by the different public health agencies around the world. In response to one of the greatest public health crises from the last century, the World Health Organisation has made it clear that the key to prevention and control of COVID-19 lies in its detection. 

Nucleic acid testing must be made easily accessible and all suspected cases need to be tested. These testing laboratories are a critical medical resource and have a direct impact on the capability of countries to respond to an outbreak. 

Likewise, isolation wards play a significant role in admitting and treating infected patients to further control the expansion of the pandemic.

There are many roadblocks to quickly building structures that are safe, accessible, mobile, and easy to transport. Cost and time are rare commodities as the world faces mass infection.

About the solution

College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University and BGI Genomics Co., Ltd. have jointly developed the Huo-Yan Air Laboratory. The Huo-Yan laboratory, so named after a beloved Chinese character ‘Monkey King’ who identifies monsters instantly and accurately, was first developed by BGI Genomics Co as a rapidly erected testing site. The College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University has further developed the Huo-Yan Air Laboratory – Inflatable Membrane Structure Negative Pressure Virus Detection Station.

The inflatable membrane structure is an innovative construction technology that has been developed and perfected over many years and provides a perfect solution for the current challenge. Membrane structure buildings are quick to erect, cost-effective, convenient for storage when not in use, simple to transport or deploy between cities, and can be scaled for a large production. Its modular design allows it to be expanded in order to meet the new demand for temporary outbreaks.

The inflatable structure can be adapted with different membrane thicknesses, according to the length of the incubation period of the pandemic. The positive pressure and the prefabricated construction are combined to ensure that the entire system is sealed, and the membrane is pushed up by the internal air pressure, which greatly simplifies the supporting structure. Meanwhile, it effectively manages the indoor gas flow, and centrally treats the polluted air and sewage. 

When equipped with an air conditioning system and the fresh air system to convert the positive pressure environment to the negative pressure environment, the building can be reused, providing sustainable advantages. 

The membrane structure product has a high volume-compression ratio. When packaged for transport, it fits in the engine room of the aircraft and can be delivered to pandemic hot spots. 

17 Huo-Yan air laboratories have been launched in seven countries around the world, including nine domestically in Harbin, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Qingdao, and Shijiazhuang in China, and eight internationally in Gabon, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Togo, Ethiopia and Oman.