Happy Mother’s Day from BoP Designer! Today’s the perfect time for a post about a design innovation I’ve been researching just recently: the Embrace Infant Warmer.
Embrace is a low-cost alternative to expensive incubators for babies born prematurely or otherwise unable to maintain their own body temperature. According to Embrace’s website:
20,000,000 low-birth-weight and premature babies are born each year. 450 of them die each hour. This occurs primarily in developing countries, often in areas that don’t have access to innovations in modern medicine. One of the biggest problems these babies face is hypothermia: they are not able to regulate their own body temperature, and therefore cannot stay warm. In fact, room temperature for these small infants feels freezing cold. 4 million babies die within their first month of life. Those that do survive often develop life-long health problems such as early onset of diabetes, heart disease, and low IQ.
Their solution “looks like a miniature sleeping bag that incorporates a phase change material, which stays at a constant temperature for up to 6 hours. This low-cost solution maintains premature and low birth weight babies’ body temperature to help them survive and thrive.”
Embrace started as a project for “extreme affordability” in a class at Stanford’s d.school, which its team members decided to carry through to market, starting in India. They have recently expanded operations to Somalia and China, as well as disaster areas where they distribute through aid organizations as needed.
The warmer, which costs only $200 is 1% of the cost of the most common hospital incubators at about $20,000 each. General Electric, who also produces incubators, recently designed a new model for $2,000. Impressed with what they saw in Embrace, the two have joined in a partnership as part of GE’s Healthymagination initiative, supporting 100 promising health-related innovations over six years.
- The insulated wrap and heat-releasing phase change material pack keep infants warm for 4-6 hours at a time
- The heat pack is warmed to the ideal temperature in hot water or a special electrical warmer — since many rural areas have intermittent or no electricity supply, generators or battery sources can be used
- Babies are still able to be held and fed within the warmer, unlike with regular incubators
- Since it’s not always common for babies to wear diapers, the material is easily washable
- The clear plastic window allows doctors to monitor skin color (an indicator of problems) and the way it wraps the baby allows for IV’s and monitoring wires
- Radically cheaper, more easily shipped and transported, and less reliant on constant electricity supplies than traditional incubators
Embrace has been largely championed as a success in health and human-centered design, presenting a next-step innovation reached through thorough understanding, iteration and continued improvement. It has gone through a number of variations in fabrics, materials, shapes and warming elements, learning and adapting from testing and feedback. While challenges of distribution and other factors still exist, Embrace is an exciting health and design innovation with big social impact.
Also check out these insights shared by Embrace’s designers on design thinking and social impact >>