A British graduate student has invented an inexpensive and effective way to keep premature babies from dying in war-torn areas and refugee camps where access to hospitals and medical equipment is scarce. James Roberts has just won the James Dyson Award for Student Design for his invention that was inspired from a documentary on the Syrian conflict.
"I was watching a Panorama program on BBC about Syrian refugees, and they had a segment about how there are loads of premature kids dying because of the stresses of war and specifically the lack of incubators out there and the infrastructure to support them," Roberts said to the BBC. "I thought there has to be a way to solve that."
The incubator that Roberts created is specifically designed to be easily transported and quickly set up. It consists of a sheet of plastic that contains inflatable transparent panels that are inflated manually and are heated by a ceramic element. The sheet wraps around the center of the incubator and when opened is able to maintain its shape without collapsing.
The temperature and humidification is controlled by an Arduino computer as well as a phototherapy lamp that helps treat jaundice. The whole unit is designed to use as little power as possible and can be plugged into a wall outlet, generator or even run on a car battery for up to 24 hours.
The MOM incubator can be collapsed for easy transport in care packages and it has a modular design that allows damaged parts to be replaced easily. The unit can also be sterilized for reuse.
Roberts won £30,000 for his work, which he'll use to continue developing the incubator. His current prototype would cost about £250 to manufacture which is a small fraction of the price of similar incubators.
You can watch a BBC interview with Roberts below.