James Roberts, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Loughborough University in the U.K., has just been announced as the international winner of the 2014 James Dyson Award. His winning project was truly remarkable. It’s a portable, inflatable incubator for preterm babies that only costs around £250 ($400) to make, compared to the roughly £30,000 ($47,000) price of conventional hospital incubators. Roberts was inspired to develop the incubator after seeing the shocking infant mortality statistics in refugee camps, where the price tag and prevailing conditions mean purchasing traditional incubators is out of the question.
The incubator, known as the MOM, opens and closes like an accordion for easy transportation. It runs off a battery that lasts 24 hours, so it can be used in areas with patchy or no electricity. The incubator is inflated manually, is heated using ceramic heating elements and has a phototherapy unit for treated jaundiced infants. A screen shows the customizable interior temperature and humidity, and an alarm will sound in the event the temperature changes.
Of his design, Roberts said: “I was inspired to tackle this problem after watching a documentary on the high death rate among premature babies in refugee camps. It motivated me to use my design engineering skills to make a difference. Like many young inventors, there have been struggles along the way – I had to sell my car to fund my first prototype! The dream would be to meet a child that my incubator has saved – living proof that my design has made a difference.”
According to the World Health Organization, 75 percent of deaths resulting from premature birth could be avoided if inexpensive treatments were more readily available worldwide. The stresses of war and life in refugee camps are also leading to increases in premature births in conflict zones such as Syria. Of the 2014 international winner, James Dyson said: “James’ invention shows the impact design engineering can have on people’s lives. The western world takes incubators for granted – we don’t think about how their inefficient design makes them unusable in developing countries and disaster zones. By bravely challenging convention, James has created something that could save thousands of lives.”
You can see Roberts explain how his invention works here.
Photos by MOM