Student-Invented Device Could Save Lives on the Battlefield

John Bidlack / Homewood Photography
John Bidlack / Homewood Photography / John Bidlack / Homewood Photography

A group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduates might just revolutionize a 200-year-old emergency medical procedure. The CricSpike is a student-designed device that makes a cricothyrotomy—the procedure in which you create an artificial airway to allow someone to breathe—far easier. 

While it’s occasionally depicted in movies as being done with a simple ballpoint pen, a cricothyrotomy is actually a super tricky procedure, one that even trained medical professionals with proper equipment can botch. The CricSpike is kind of like an EpiPen for blocked airways, making a complicated procedure performed under stressful emergency conditions much more automatic. It’s just the right length so that it can make an incision in the wind pipe, but not punch through to the esophagus. 

Screenshot via YouTube

On the battlefield, medics often fail to insert tools in the windpipe itself, creating an incision that just pierces the skin or one that goes too far, piercing the esophagus, which doesn’t lead to the lungs. In the recent U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of preventable deaths on the battlefield were due to a soldier’s inability to breathe. The tip of the CricSpike is shaped to ensure that it hits in the right spot, and when the hole is made, the handle of the device breaks off so the medic can insert a breathing tube into the windpipe. 

While the device was specifically designed for battlefield conditions, it could be just as vital in hospitals and ambulances, where failure rates for the procedure are still relatively high. Up to 15 percent of cricothyrotomies performed in hospitals by doctors and physician’s assistants fail. While potentially life-saving, the CricSpike is still just a rough prototype; the students will need to refine it further before it could be used in real-life emergencies. 

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at