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Turning Cars into Life Saving Devices

So you know how babies sleep best in cars? Yeah, well its even more true now. A New York Times story discusses an initiative to improve healthcare in developing nations. One device that embodies the initiative is an incubator made from car parts. Headlights serve as the heat source, auto air filters and fans regulate the climate, and the car door alarm is the emergency signal. I’m not certain whether its one of those fancy models that also says, “your door is ajar.” All kidding aside, this is a key issue.

The device can be built for less than $1000 and it is designed for use in developing countries. Although many of these nations have more than enough incubators, what they really need are incubators that work. Incubators break through unreliable electrical currents (e.g., surges and brownouts) and through misuse (often caused by lack of training). A device made from cars is more likely to have readily available replacement parts even from junkyards. And auto mechanics can be trained to fix the incubators. The project is being promoted by the Global Health Initiative at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (Cimit), a nonprofit consortium of Boston teaching hospitals and engineering schools. Design That Matters, a nonprofit firm in Cambridge, MA, designed the machine. The car parts incubator has received $150,000 in initial financing from Cimit. The project team is looking for foundation support to develop a working prototype. Because it does not rely on original products or processes, the incubator will most likely not be patented. Massachusetts General Hospital and Design That Matters share intellectual property rights. Meanwhile, the teamâEUR(TM)s greatest challenges are manufacturing, financing, distribution and regulatory approvals. One hope is that international bodies like the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund will endorse the incubator. If that happens, it would speed global adoption, even without approval from FDA. Heather Thompson

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