This Inflatable Incubator Brings Baby-Saving Tech To The Developing World

Places like refugee camps aren’t great places to be born, but new cheap and easy-to-transport neonatal tech might make it a little safer.

James Roberts came up with his design for an inflatable incubator after watching a film about Syria, and hearing how many premature babies are dying in its refugee camps. All because of a lack of basic incubating equipment–technology that’s taken for granted in American or European hospitals.


His design looks like an accordion-like instrument called a concertina. Each end of the shell case contains electronics, including a ceramic heater, some fans, a humidifier, and an Arduino computer. The collapsible middle section extends out and can be inflated into a bed. “This allows the incubator to fit into a very compact space for storage or transportation, but still offer the same volume of a first world incubator when inflated for the child’s comfort,” Roberts says.

He developed the idea as part of a final year project at a British university. So far, there are two prototypes: a purely functional clear plastic box that demonstrates the technology, and an “aesthetic” version that shows off what the product will eventually look like. Roberts is now trying to interest charities in adopting the project.

There are already cheap baby-warming products aimed at the developing world. Embrace, for instance, is a clever sleeping bag that can maintain a 37 degree C temperature for up to four hours. Roberts’s idea has a few extra features like humidity a sensor and a temperature probe, and LED lights for nighttime use. The design is an entry in this year’s Dyson Awards, which closes for entries August 7.

“Neonatal intensive care units have been around since 1922. So why, almost 100 years later is this still a huge problem in some parts of the world?” Roberts asks.

“I believe my design helps solve this problem and could allow for certain children to gain a positive start in life, greatly decreasing the numbers of premature child deaths throughout refugee camps.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.