One of the greatest challenges to combating problems in the developing world – like disease and infant mortality – is the fact that the necessary infrastructure and equipment isn’t always available. This is especially the case in war-torn Syria, where premature babies are dying due to a lack of incubating equipment. Hence why James Roberts came up with his Inflatable Incubator, a cheap and easy-to-transport neonatal device.
Designed to look like an accordion-like instrument known as a concertina, each end of the inflatable shell case contains electronics, including a ceramic heater, some fans, a humidifier, and an Arduino computer. The collapsible middle section extends out and can be inflated into a bed. As Roberts explained:
This allows the incubator to fit into a very compact space for storage or transportation, but still offer the same volume of a first world incubator when inflated for the child’s comfort.
The idea came to him after Roberts saw a video about child death in Syrian refugee camps and he decided to develop the idea as part of a final year project at a British university. So far, there are two prototypes: a purely functional clear plastic box that demonstrates the technology, and an “aesthetic” version that shows off what the product will eventually look like. Roberts is now trying to interest charities in adopting the project.
There are already cheap baby-warming products aimed at the developing world, such as the Embrace – a clever sleeping bag that can maintain a 37° C (98° F)temperature for up to four hours. Roberts’s idea has a few extra features, like a humidity sensor, a temperature probe, and LED lights for nighttime use. The design was also entered in this year’s Dyson Awards, an international student design award program that rewards problem-solving ideas.
To Roberts, his invention is not just about offering a solution to a problem that all-too-common in certain regions of the world. It’s also about addressing a technology gap that has existed for far too long. As he explained it:
Neonatal intensive care units have been around since 1922. So why, almost 100 years later is this still a huge problem in some parts of the world? I believe my design helps solve this problem and could allow for certain children to gain a positive start in life, greatly decreasing the numbers of premature child deaths throughout refugee camps.
As always, its a question of access. And making technologies more accessible in the developing world is one of the greatest challenges facing modern researchers and developers.