For World Prematurity Day, Not Impossible Now interviewed James Roberts, who hopes his low-cost inflatable incubator can one day save premature babies’ lives in developing countries.

Today is World Prematurity Day, which raises awareness about the serious crisis of premature births around the world. James Roberts set out to do something about it. 

The 23-year-old British inventor created a low-cost inflatable incubator that can be used in developing countries. Called the MOM incubator, Roberts recently received $45,000 for winning this year's James Dyson Award for the idea.

“I had many bigger companies and people who I was asking for advice telling me what I was doing was almost impossible,” Roberts told Not Impossible Now in an email interview. “It almost made me want to try and prove them wrong even more.”

Read more of Not Impossible Now’s interview with Roberts below:

James Roberts with the MOM incubator. (Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts)

James Roberts with the MOM incubator. (Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts)

NIN: What inspired you to create the MOM incubator?

James Roberts: For my final year of University we are given a brief that is very similar to the James Dyson Award brief in that we must design something that solves a problem. I was given this brief and was lucky enough to be sitting in front of my TV at night in my student flat and a program about Syria was on. One segment of this program showed how many premature kids were being born because of the conditions and subsequently how many were dying because of the lack of incubators. They were “losing a generation” because of it. I thought there has to be a better way and tried to solve the problem.

Today is World Prematurity Day, which raises awareness about the global crisis of premature births. How do you hope the MOM incubator will make a difference with this issue?

Roberts: I would love for MOM one day to provide hope for mothers that previously had none. It is a serious issue around the world and one that we take for granted in the developed world. Why shouldn't those children have at least a chance at survival?

Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts

Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts

What was one of the most challenging aspects of making MOM?

Roberts: Finding a heat system that could both work reliably and be cost effective enough was quite hard. I tested many different versions even making my own heaters (which I do not recommend people trying as I almost electrocuted myself) until I landed on simple ceramic plates that could work in nearly any situation easily. Getting someone to help me make the inflatable part was also very difficult as it is very bespoke and was a challenge to do.

How were you able to bring down the costs of MOM versus regular incubators?

Roberts: The inflatable part of the incubator is very cheap to manufacture. It takes away all the molding and tooling needs of traditional incubators. The technology used inside the incubator is also very simple and basically just puts together already used technology in new ways. You could probably buy everything you needed to make it at a local computer store.

After research from various professionals, I also found out what was absolutely necessary for the incubator to help children in the developing world. It is almost a back to basics incubator that only provides what the child needs. Typical expensive incubators have features like weight scales or brain scanners, which are useful but not necessary in many situations. The three things MOM provides are a stable heat environment, humidification and a phototherapy unit.

James Dyson, left, and James Roberts. (Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts)

James Dyson, left, and James Roberts. (Photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts)

What was it like to meet James Dyson? Did he have any advice for you?

Roberts: Meeting James Dyson was amazing. He is someone I always looked up to in that he had an idea and went all the way with it, not listening to the bigger companies and was successful. He actually surprised me. He told me he was looking over all 20 of the contestants and after looking over mine he stuck his hand out and told me I had won. I almost collapsed.

He told me not to give up my idea and try to take it forward and actually help some people, which is advice I am definitely going to take.

What advice do you have for young students who have an idea that they hope can make a difference in the world but don’t know where to start?

Roberts: My advice would be: (1) Not to listen to what other people say about what you are trying to do. I had many bigger companies and people who I was asking for advice telling me what I was doing was almost impossible and what did I know as someone who hasn't even finished University. It almost made me want to try and prove them wrong even more. 

(2) RESEARCH!!! The Internet is an amazing tool, and you can find a lot of information. I started knowing nothing about incubators or the needs of the developing world and within nine months I think I have a good understanding. Having good research behind you also lets you approach professionals in the field and have an idea of what to ask about. They won’t be of much help if you literally know nothing on the subject and will think you are wasting their time.

Learn more about James Roberts and the MOM incubator at this link and watch a demo of the incubator below.

Top photo courtesy of Dyson and James Roberts