Design TED Talks

5 designers working hard to save babies’ lives

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Designer Timothy Prestero loves a flashy concept car. But he would much rather create objects that will actually be of use to real people.

In an illuminating talk given at TEDxBoston, Timothy describes how he became interested in the problem of neonatal mortality upon hearing that 4 million babies die within 28 days of birth, especially in developing countries, often because of a lack of consistent heat. Thus, Timothy and his team designed the NeoNurture “car parts” infant incubator, a space-age looking device that landed in the pages of Time magazine as one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2010.”

Only, the design went nowhere from there.

Timothy and his team tried again, joining forces this time with manufacturers and hospital directors in developing countries, to tackle the problem of newborn jaundice, which is easily treated by bathing a baby in blue light. This time, Timothy thought about all the ways nurses in an overcrowded facility could use the device incorrectly by trying to treat more than one baby at a time, as well as how parents could accidentally undermine treatment by placing a blanket over their baby. This time, Timothy set to design a product that was hard to use the wrong way.

“There’s no such thing as a dumb user; there are only dumb products,” says Timothy. “Are we designing for the world that we want, are we designing for the world we have, or are we designing for the that’s coming, whether we’re ready or not?”

Timothy will probably be glad to hear about these four other designers, who are also working hard to create products to save the lives of newborns around the world.

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A sleeping bag that saves lives
TED Fellow Jane Chen was also horrified by statistics on the number of premature babies who die, or grow up with severe health problems, because they cannot regulate their body temperature after birth. In this moving talk given at TEDIndia 2009, Jane reveals a $25 portable, electricity-free solution — Embrace, a sleeping bag that safely warms babies.

An infant respirator, designed by students
Respirators aren’t one size fits all, and when a sick baby or small child with pneumonia needs one, using a version created for adults can damage their lungs. A group of Stanford design students have crafted a genius solution — a small, flexible mask called AdaptAir. Now a graduate, designer Alejandro Palandjoglou is looking to have the product manufactured. [Fast Company Design]

Jaundice treatment for rural hospitals
At TEDxStanford, mechanical engineer Krista Donaldson spoke about the same problem Timothy Prestero confronted — bringing blue light treatment devices to hospitals in the developing world for babies with jaundice. In this talk, Krista describes how her nonprofit D-Rev created Brilliance, a phototherapy device that is hard to misuse, even in areas like rural India where power outages are frequent.

A sleep apnea monitor made from bike parts
Infants often experience disruptions in breathing while they sleep — but for premature babies, even small gaps can cause severe damage. While nurses in neonatal wards are tasked with monitoring breathing, staffs in overcrowded hospitals in the developing world are easily overwhelmed. A team of students at Rice University set out to create a cheap device to assist and came up with the Babalung Apnea Monitor, a device strapped to a baby’s waist. If a baby stops breathing for 20 seconds, a bicycle light goes off. It begins flashing if breathing doesn’t resume within five seconds. [GizMag]