The winner of the 2014 James Dyson Award, an international engineering design award, is James Roberts, a recent engineering graduate from England, who has developed an affordable, collapsible and easily transportable incubator that duplicates the protective shield given to newborns in a hospital. Roberts’ design—MOM—has a battery which lasts for 24-hours in cases of power outages, can be blown up manually and is heated by ceramic heating elements. The James Dyson Award is given to one outstanding innovation that will solve problems in the world, and for certain MOM will be a big factor in the fight to save preemies and other at-risk newborns throughout the world, especially in developing nations.
Premature births are one in ten globally and more than one million die annually from complications, primarily hypothermia. The World Health Organization states that at least 75% of premature babies’ lives could be saved if they had access to affordable treatments. For a preemie, the most important, life-saving treatment is warmth and constant monitoring. In the western world, all hospitals are equipped with incubators, providing immediate relief to preemies, as well as babies born with jaundice and other life-threatening conditions. However, in the developing world, and, as was the inspiration for Roberts, refugee camps, there is very little hope for a baby born at risk. These places do not have even the minimum of medical technology, much less something as advanced as an incubator. Refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, such as Turkey or Jordan, find that they must pay enormous sums to access such technologies, something none of them can afford.
Roberts’ MOM is equipped with a monitor that displays the humidity and temperature, both of which can be set according to the needs of the infant, and a phototherapy unit for jaundiced babies. It costs $400 to manufacture compared to $45,000 for the typical incubation system found in a hospital. Roberts says he was inspired by his discovery of the high death rate among preemies in refugee camps. He had to sell his car to raise the money needed to pursue his dream of making a difference in the world, but now with $45,000 from the James Dyson Foundation, Roberts will be able to continue working on prototypes, testing, and mass production and distribution. Roberts’ dream is that one day he will meet a young person saved by MOM and then he will know that his design saved lives.