Designing a Better World

Last year I wrote a post about a baby incubator made from car parts, built here in Boston by not-for-profit organization Design that Matters. The incubator uses car parts because they are easy to find practically anywhere in the world.

One of the problems with baby incubators and other pieces of technology used in hospitals is that they are often abandoned once they break down because access to the parts is difficult. In many cases it just needs a fuse to go that cannot be locally sourced and a hugely expensive machine becomes unuseable.

The car parts incubator hopes to avoid this problem. Read more in the post here.

Readers will be glad to hear that the Design That Matters organization have been named as finalists in Fast Company magazine’s Innovation by Design Awards. They appear in the category of Social Good, and that really represents the philosophy of the organization.

Project Firefly

Project Firefly

This year they have received numerous awards and special mentions for their Project Firefly, a safe, robust and inexpensive tool to provide infant phototherapy and warming for otherwise healthy newborns at risk of developing hyperbilirubinemia (leading to jaundice) and hypothermia.

Design that Matters (DtM), the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) and Vietnamese manufacturer MTTS have launched a collaboration to develop the device. It is hoped that the product could save hundreds of thousands of babies from disability or death through jaundice related complications.

I believe that design really could improve the world. We might think about some relatively inexpensive technological idea that can improve life for many people. In an article I also wrote last year on the Bassetti Foundation website I mentioned the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a competition organized to promote and support such ideas.

Many great ideas come through design schools. One example is the liter of light project started at MIT. Plastic bottles are used to reflect light into dark rooms by being placed in the roof. They run on water, bleach and sunlight, and have brought light into thousands of homes. Check out the video on the post linked above.

A Liter of Light in use

A Liter of Light in use

One fantastic source of “design to save the world” is the website Inhabitat. This site contains posts submitted by its editorial staff and readers that bring such projects to the public eye. They have a newsletter, and there is something for everyone, from technology, to architecture and an entire section for kids.

Really educational, interesting and fun, and maybe you will get a world improving idea yourself.

An Incubator from Car Parts

One of the most serious issues with using medical equipment in the developing world is breakage. Some statistics state that the average life of a large piece of machinery is about 5 years, and hospitals typically have stockpiles of broken machinery that they cannot use.

The problem is availability of spare parts. In some cases machines are taken out of service for minor problems, even fuse replacement, because the distribution network required to get the part does not service that area.

Here in Cambridge Massachusetts, a design company has produced as prototype of a baby incubator for use in such situations. The machine has all of the necessary functions of the most expensive incubators, but is built using car parts.

An easily repairable machine

Why car parts you might ask? Cars are found everywhere, and in many cases they are the only things that get regularly repaired. As a result parts are also available practically everywhere, both formal and informal networks serving even the most remote areas, and the designer believes that this makes the prototype product serviceable and repairable wherever it is found.

A simple idea that could have great knock on effects, I hazard to say. The incubator is heated using a pair of car headlights placed under the mattress, the temperature gauge is a car standard, as is the wiring loom and the air intake and filters. The alarm is a door bell and the emergency lights are direction turning indicators. If power is lost a motorbike battery takes over and it can even be run from jump leads.

The Massachusetts General Hospital has one of the prototypes on display in its museum, but unfortunately it looks as if the designers are still looking for a backer in order to put the project into mass production.

Given that millions of babies are born each year and many die on their first day of life, let us hope that somebody offers them some funds.