The annual James Dyson Award for Innovation has gone to a young British inventor who has produced an inflatable incubator system. The device has been designed for the developing world and costs only £250. The really important aspect of this device is that it has the same life-saving features that the standard £30,000 incubator has.

The inventor is a 23-year-old graduate, James Roberts, has been granted £30,000 in prize money to develop the prototype and is hoping to find ways to make it even cheaper to manufacture.

The MOM Inflatable Incubator could be used globally.

The MOM Inflatable Incubator could be used globally.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than one in 10 babies worldwide is born prematurely and 75% of deaths resulting from premature birth could be avoided if cheaper treatments were more readily available globally.

The MOM system costs only £250 to fabricate and test and can be collapsed for transportation, so it is very portable. The unit runs from a battery that can last 24 hours, which, in places where power cuts are regular, is a real bonus feature. The incubator itself is inflated manually and is heated with ceramic elements and if the required temperature changes then an alarm will sound. For jaundiced babies there is also a collapsible phototherapy unit.

Sir James Dyson said: “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.”

Dr Steve Jones, consultant paediatrician at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, commented on Mr Roberts’ design, “MOM is a really interesting piece of innovation – I particularly like the integration of phototherapy, as jaundice is a very common co-morbidity alongside prematurity…Its use needn’t be limited to developing world scenarios. I could see it being used in the UK to support community midwifery units, or following home births.”


James Roberts said he had to sell his car so he could fund the prototype.

“I was inspired to tackle this problem after watching a documentary on the issue for premature babies in refugee camps…The dream would be to meet a child that my incubator has saved – living proof that my design has made a difference.”

[Images via engtechmag and Wired]