Inflatable baby incubator wins overall 2014 James Dyson Award

6 Nov 2014

Pictured: 2014 international Dyson Award winner James Roberts shows Sir James Dyson his life-saving inflatable incubator

A low-cost incubator designed to prevent premature deaths among babies in the developing world, created by a 23-year-old UK inventor, has won the 2014 international James Dyson Award.

The design engineer behind MOM is James Roberts, 23, a recent graduate from Loughborough University. Winning theJames Dyson Award will inject stg£30,000 (€38,000) into further prototyping and testing, with a view to further cost reductions and ultimately seeing MOM mass produced.

Over one in ten babies worldwide are born prematurely. According to the World Health Organisation, 75pc of deaths resulting from premature birth could be avoided if inexpensive treatments were more readily available across the globe.

Providing the same performance as a £30,000 modern incubation system, MOM costs just stg£250 (€318) to manufacture, test and transport to the desired location. The device can be collapsed for transportation and runs off a battery which lasts 24 hours, in case of power outages. The incubator is blown up manually and it is heated using ceramic heating elements. A screen shows the current temperature and the humidity which can be custom set, depending on the gestation age.

“I was inspired to tackle this problem after watching a documentary on the issue for premature babies in refugee camps,” Roberts said.

“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.”

An alarm will sound if the desired temperature changes. And for babies that suffer from Jaundice there is a phototherapy unit which is collapsible too. MOM complies with British incubation standards – delivering a stable heat environment, humidification and jaundice lighting.

Designs for living

“James’ invention shows the impact design engineering can have on people’s lives,” said celebrated UK inventor Sir James Dyson.

“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.”

The overall award announcement comes just over a month after a new feeding system designed by a Limerick student after witnessing his cousin struggle with feeding tubes after her birth won the Irish leg of the 2014 James Dyson Award.

Mallow, Co Cork, native Darren Lehane’s potentially life-saving technology is called Nutria and aims to prevent the fatal risk of incorrect insertion of feeding tubes into patients’ stomachs.

Lehane (22) had just completed his bachelor’s degree in product design and technology at University of Limerick.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years