A British university student has designed an inflatable incubator to provide a low-cost solution to premature birth care. He hopes his design will help save the lives of babies in refugee camps and the developing world. Suzannah Butcher reports.
It was the plight of Syrian refugees which inspired design student James Roberts' final year university project - a low cost incubator to save the lives of premature babies. With traditional incubators costing around 50,000 dollars, James wanted to find a cheaper method to provide the vital care the babies needed. His solution - an inflatable incubator. Easy to clean, compact when deflated, the incubator costs less than $400 to produce and deliver. SOUNDBITE (English) DESIGN ENGINEER AND CREATOR OF MOM INFLATABLE INCUBATOR, JAMES ROBERTS, SAYING: "It's basically an insulated piece of air, so it's like the difference between double and single glazing so it's easier to keep the inside at a stable heat environment, heat temperature. The actual size of the incubator can be very small when it's compressed, the inflatable bit goes to that, so that saves money on shipping costs especially. so you don't need a whole crate in an airplane instead you can put this in already used care packages and then just ship them out there. So, it's a lot cheaper." The incubator is also designed to deal with the sporadic power supply of refugee camps. SOUNDBITE (English) DESIGN ENGINEER AND CREATOR OF MOM INFLATABLE INCUBATOR, JAMES ROBERTS, SAYING: "You have to have a backup power solution, and so I thought 'Why not car batteries?', there's loads of cars out there, they're pretty readily available. So you can plug this into a car battery, it will run for 24 hours and then when the mains comes back on, the mains can then charge this battery, and then that can run the incubator." Roberts has received a boost to his plans to mass produce the incubators by winning the lucrative James Dyson Award. He now has almost 50,000 dollars to contribute to further research and testing. But he's seeking more funding to allow him to produce the incubators in the quantities needed to save babies around the world.