MOM: The James Dyson Award Winning Inflatable Incubator

Imagine having a dream when you were fifteen. Who didn’t? Now imagine that same dream becomes reality in your early 20s. For most, the latter scenario is less familiar. Now to raise the stakes further, what if your dream had the potential to save thousands of lives?

Meet James Roberts, student at England’s Loughborough University, 2014 recipient of the James Dyson International Award and a person who made his teenage dream come true. Meeting someone he emulated since his formative years was inspiring. “Dyson’s done everything that everyone in engineering wants to do,” said Roberts. “He has a lightbulb moment and makes it a reality.”

Beyond meeting an idol, the meeting was to award Roberts for designing MOM, an inexpensive, electronically controlled, inflatable incubator created to decrease the number of premature child deaths in developing nations and refugee camps.


MOM Knows Best

After watching a BBC Panorama episode covering the strife experienced by Syrian refugees, Roberts was educated to the harsh realities of the war-torn and developing world. Every year, 27,500 children born within refugee camps will die as a result of insufficient incubation. That lead Roberts to ask the question, “Does every child born not have the right to a chance of survival?” The idea for MOM was born.

Traditional incubators are not the optimal solution for refugee camps and developing countries. The first problem is cost. Incubators you see in the first world run upwards of £30,000. There is simply no funding to purchase these devices. Donating incubators could solve the problem right? Unfortunately, when incubators are donated, they are either too complicated or too big for facilities to handle. “In many cases, a refugee hospital is the size of your bedroom,” said Roberts.

Maintenance is another pain point. Think of your run of the mill hospital. Clean, secure and full of resources – all of these amenities are off the table in this case. “Normal incubators need servicing about every three months,” Roberts said. “MOM was designed for a five-year life span with easy to order, plug and play parts.” When MOM does need maintenance, it was designed for the layperson to assemble and configure with easy-to-understand visual instructions.

Finally, shipping is an issue. It’s not easy to send a large incubator to a refugee camp. In comparison, 40 MOM incubators can fit in the space it requires to ship one traditional incubator. In the event MOM replacement parts are needed to be shipped, these items, like inflatable plastic are easily sourced and readily available.

Designing MOM

After some initial sketches, Roberts designed MOM, from compartments and electrical to the inflatable part, entirely in SOLIDWORKS. “MOM was designed to be very inexpensive, very resilent and reliable, and easily portable,” said Roberts. SOLIDWORKS was critical to accurately modeling MOM in the software.

By modeling everything down to electronics in SOLIDWORKS, Roberts was able to be certain that all components fit properly. This was especially critical while dealing with the inflatable part, the one item he could not manufacture on his own. “Without having an accurate tool, I wouldn’t have been able to send the plans to the group who built the inflatable part,” Roberts stated.

SOLIDWORKS validation tools were also important during the testing phase. Roberts knew that he needed a resilient plastic and turned to the plastic deformational tool and FEA simulation tools to be certain that his materials could be manufactured and perform as intended.

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What’s Next for MOM

While his dream may have come true, he’s not close to trying a bow around his work. Roberts plans to redesign his working incubator by April. This is due largely in part of his pursuit of perfection. “I want to make the best possible product and mom still needs some tweaks,” Roberts said. “I’m planning an aggressive two year time line to get MOM into the field and hopefully know that MOM is saving children.”

Since Roberts admits to losing upwards of 12 hours at a time in SOLIDWORKS, I have no doubt that he’ll stick to his April timeline and bring MOM, along with future innovations, to a world that so desperately needs these types of breakthroughs. Roberts’ story is an inspiring one and his demeanor is just as exhilarating. I’ll leave you with his development advice, and it’s advice that spans any industry, “When I started researching MOM, a lot of people said it’s not something I should do and it’s almost impossible. Instead of listening, you need to have belief that you’re going to do this anyway and to trust in yourself.”

Learn more about MOM Incubators here:

Follow James on Twitter @momincubators 


Mike Fearon

Mike Fearon

Senior Manager Brand Offer Marketing, Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS. Video game world champion and whisky advocate. I like turtles.