This year’s James Dyson Award was awarded for a device dubbed MOM — a portable, inflatable incubator for newborns. Created by James Roberts, a recent graduate from Loughborough University, it was built for use in medical centers across the Global South, specifically in refugee camps.
Roberts’ inspiration stemmed from a documentary he watched in his final year of university on refugee camps in Syria, which emphasized the number of infant deaths in refugee camps due to lack of proper care and supplies for premature babies. According to MOM’s website, “an estimated 150,000 child births occur within refugee camps [each year, and] of these child births, 27,500 will die due to lack of sufficient incubation.” As a result, Roberts’s ultimate goal is to mass produce MOMs and have them distributed throughout the Global South to help combat the lack of medical supplies and technology for premature babies.
The design of MOM devices is what makes it so innovative: they are packaged in flat-packs, which makes them easy to ship and assemble as part of larger aid deliveries. They are then inflated with air and heated with ceramic elements wrapped around the inside of the device. The device remains inflated when opened, so it will not deflate onto the baby inside. It is made of transparent materials, so you can always see the infant.
The temperature is controlled by a computer, and a lamp on the inside helps treat jaundice. An alarm activates if any issues become apparent. MOMs can also run off of car batteries, so they don’t drain electric resources; its battery life is just over 24 hours when not connected to a direct source.
If any piece of the incubator breaks, it can be easily fixed. Since they are packaged in multiple pieces and then assembled on site, pieces can be easily repaired or swapped out for new ones, rather than replacing the entire device. The plastic sheets that line the inside can also be easily sterilized and reused numerous times between patients, which shows its long-term sustainability.
Current models cost roughly £250 to put together, as opposed to traditional incubators, which can cost up to £30,000 each, making MOMs more realistic for medical centers across the Global South. Some critics have said that these devices aren’t as advanced as incubators commonly found in hospitals, but that’s the point–they are meant to deliver the basic environment needed for newborns to survive.
Roberts was awarded £30,000 for his invention, which he intends to put towards more research and materials. He hopes to have the inflatable incubators available by 2017. One of his goals is to reduce production costs so that they can be mass produced and distributed across the Global South.
For more information, check out MOMs website and the following video, in which Roberts explains his new invention.