$25 baby incubator for premature newborns in poor places

From FORA TV, this video of a presentation by George Kembel, co-founder of the Stanford d.school, about the "Embrace," an extremely low-cost incubator for premature newborns. The challenge: design better technology to help keep premature newborns alive. The reality: the most at-risk newborns are in rural areas, far away from hospitals where $25,000 incubators are housed. The solution: a $25 "incubator" with materials that can be heated up in a pot of boiling water.

Awakening Creativity / FORA (thanks, Blaise Zerega)



  1. Urgh. One of the most common patient injuries in hospitals comes from homemade heating pads. Nurses heat moist towels or blue pads in the microwave and apply them to patients, usually to prep for an IV. It’s very hard to judge the heat level and burns are quite common. I hate to see ‘baby’ and ‘boiling water’ in the same invention.

  2. Antinous, wow, right. So, I believe that the Stanford design team behind this consulted with medical professionals in the design of the device. Looks like it involves various layers of protective insulation. I am not a nurse, but it sounds like this is several steps removed from microwaving wet towels and wrapping them around vulnerable newborns.

  3. What ever happened to holding babies next to your skin under a blanket? Word is that babies prefer it too.

  4. Antonious et al.

    The incubator thermoregulates by using a phase-change material to constantly maintain the proper temperature for incubation. They have worked hard to remove any guesswork and risk from the process, it’s not a “homemade heating pad” by any stretch.

    Check out their website here: http://embraceglobal.org/

    I met these guys and gals at a seminar recently, these are smart students, working hard with very little investment to get their product up and running and through the proper trials (FDA, etc).


    1. Hey Embrace guys, would you please contact me by email? xeni at boingboing dot net. I’m involved in a nonprofit that does work in Guatemala, Benin, India, and other locales, and some of the (extremely poor) indigenous communities we serve could seriously use this. I’d love to obtain a few of these to bring to Guatemala on an upcoming trip this fall.

  5. As someone who was born 2 months premature in the early 80s this looks pretty awesome.

    much better than the auto headlight “preemie” bake oven. The thing that I have found distressing in my life from this is that when I was born there was little to no understanding on the problems of sensory overload in children born early. Bombarding the child with a giant light will most likely result in abnormal child development. I can say that I often have problems with sensory overload in my adult life that I have often wondered if it was due to lack of sensory deprivation in the incubator after I was born.

    one of these days I’ll offer myself up for a CAT scan for researchers to see what developmental effects my premature birth had.

  6. I’m guessing that Antonious was judging from the still in the video, as I was at first, that can lead one to foolishly jumping to the conclusion that the baby gets wrapped in boiled cloth. Fortunately I clicked on the actual link before making any comment.

    It seems surprising that this wasn’t invented long ago, but I guess it’s all that phase-change stuff. Is it similar to those reusable hand-warmers I have that you drop into boiling water to make them liquid again?

  7. Embrace: Super-fantastic if you can do this. Niggling worries about handling procedures, wear and tear, uninformed nurses / birth assistants. But recognition that in the presence of newborns people try very hard not to fup. Good on you, and good luck.

  8. I think this could really help me out at work. Now I stop my meatball sub from getting cold before I can eat it!

  9. @Embrace, best of luck, you are doing gods work!

    @ahoj, I had to chuckle, but its not a bake oven, the lights are used as a source of heat, rather than light. The babies aren’t bombarded with light to warm them up. The heat shed as a result of heating the filament is used in this instance. Think of how hot a halogen light gets…
    Your right, I imagine that such an intense light source would be damaging.

  10. @ahoj: I know what you mean. My mom was a preemie in the 50s and suffered permanent vision damage thanks to the brand-new fluorescent lights being used in hospitals at the time. Reading about modern preemie rooms being low-lit and quiet elicited quite the facepalm.

    This is great. Anytime medicine can be made inexpensive is a good thing.

  11. I’m not sure that fluorescent lights were to be blame. Certainly high levels of oxygen were I wasn’t a “premie” but I did spend a month in an incubator in the mid 70s.

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