British inventor and graduate student James Roberts was watching a documentary on Syrian refugee when inspiration struck.
“They had a segment about how there are loads of premature kids dying because of the stresses of war and specifically the lack of incubators out there and the infrastructure to support them,” Roberts told the BBC. “I thought there has to be a way to solve that.”
Roberts began work on what would be his final-year project — a portable, inflatable incubator that could be run off as little power as possible. Using ceramic heating elements, soft plastic panels and an Arduino computer, Roberts built a prototype that could be powered by a wall outlet, a generator or even a car battery.
The current prototype is small enough, when collapsed, to be deployed in care packages sent to refugee camps like the ones created by the Syrian conflict. A built-in phototherapy lamp can be used to treat jaundice, and the Arduino onboard computer controls heat and humidity. The modular design also allows for damaged parts to be quickly replaced, and the entire unit can be sterilized for re-use.
The Dyson prize includes a £30,000 cash award, which Roberts says he’ll use to continue work on the MOM incubator. He estimates the current prototype would cost about £250 per unit to manufacture, and provide the same basic functionality as incubators that cost 100 times as much.