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John Pavlus, a blogger for MIT’s Technology Review, dismisses most of TIME’s current feature The 50 Best Inventions of 2010 as “shiny flying things that no one on Earth needs”. A sceptical technocrat after my own heart then. But he picks out three that he thinks are more worthy of attention, one of which is a prototype incubator for premature infants.

Conventional incubators can reduce neo-natal deaths by carefully regulating the baby’s temperature, but they are completely unsuitable for less economically developed countries – high up-front costs and require prohibitive ongoing costs and training. The NeoNurture is rather different.

While researching the problem, the team of design students and professional volunteers behind the NeoNurture noticed that a lot of medical equipment donated to the hospitals they visited quickly broke and was much too complex to fix. Starting to ask “What does get fixed?”, they were swiftly led to cars.

Adding “Car” to the four Cs (Coke, condoms, cigarettes and cell phones) that Paul Hudnut describes as ubiquitous products, they developed an incubator that can be constructed from widely available vehicle parts and mended by any local mechanic. The warming is provided by headlights, a motor blower draws in filtered air, indicator lights as an alarm and a motorcycle battery protects the incubator from power outages.

It’s ingenious inventions like this that perfectly exemplifies the thesis behind the RSA’s Design team. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” as Teddy Roosevelt (who I guess would have made a very resourceful designer) put it. Or as the Design team argues: “design will be fundamental to closing the gap between behaviour and aspiration because of the particular resourcefulness that designers represent”.


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