Neonatal Incubator Built from Car Parts

Neonatal Incubator Built from Car Parts

TIME magazine has selected Neonurture, an incubator designed for use in the developing world, as among The 50 Best Inventions of 2010. Over the course of several years, RISD students and faculty worked with Design that Matters (DtM) and the Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology (CIMIT), a global-health consortium, to address the urgent need for a durable, low-cost neonatal incubator and isolation unit that could be easily maintained and repaired in the regions of the world where it’s needed most.

Every year four million babies born in the world’s poorest countries die within a month of birth. Neonatal incubators help, yet NGOs have discovered that most models donated to developing countries last less than five years, either due to electrical surges or brownouts or to lack of routine maintenance and proper training on usage.

For the many designers who worked on solving this problem – including students from MIT, Stanford and the University of Arizona – it was essential to consider the conditions and constraints in the countries where incubators are most needed. Medical personnel familiar with these environments explained that aid agencies rely on small trucks, cars and motorcycles to reach the most remote locations and that because of this, distribution chains for replacement parts and the mechanics to repair them already exist.

So Tom Weis MID 08, Mike Hahn 08 ID and Adam Geremia MID 07 were among the RISD students who built the alpha prototype for an incubator designed with used car parts. In the unit, car headlights generate heat, air filters ensure clean air and adequate convection, a motorcycle battery provides power and auto alarms are utilized to alert caregivers. Weis then worked with a subsequent team – including Emily Rothschild MID 08, Huy Vu MFA 09 GD, Paul Sherwood-Berndt and Mike Donelly – to complete the beta prototype of Neonurture, the Car-Parts Incubator. This groundbreaking example of recycling at its best was also selected for inclusion in Why Design Now?, the 2010 National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

As Neonurture goes into production, plans are to train local mechanics to be medical technologists and to conduct clinical trials with the next-generation model, according to Design that Matters. The ultimate goal is to create regional manufacturing systems capable of producing the car-parts incubator and to expand the local infrastructure and clinical skills to support it.

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