Daily Design Inspirations 3 (#DailyDesignInspirations)

The last couple of days we have posted on Design and products, where the focus had been equally on aesthetics, impact and function. Today’s inspiration in #DailyDesignInspirations is truly inspiring for its impact on lives. Saving infant lives by Designing an incubator for only $25!

Today’s Inspiration

EmbraceEmbrace is a social enterprise, a non-profit organisation that aims to help millions of vulnerable babies through a low cost infant warmer, designed for a resource constrained area with limited or no electricity. The Embrace Infant Warmer costs a fraction of the price of current equipment used for keeping babies warm. The long term vision of the company is to develop a line of affordable healthcare technologies.

The Challenge

Each year, more than 1 million babies die on their birth day. 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world, mostly due to preventable and treatable complications related to prematurity and low birth weight, including hypothermia. Most hospitals and clinics in developing countries don’t have enough incubators to meet the tremendous need. New incubators are extremely expensive, and donated incubators are confusing to operate and are difficult to maintain and repair.

Design Thinking

Design That Matters had challenged Stanford’s “Extreme Affordability” students to design a better incubator for the developing world. The team began their need finding in Kathmandu, Nepal. After spending several days observing the neonatal unit of the Kathmandu hospital, the team asked to be taken outside the city to see how premature infants were cared for in rural areas.

They learned two alarming things: First, the overwhelming majority of all premature Nepalese infants were born in these rural areas. And second, most of these infants would never make it to a hospital. They realised that no matter how good their design for a new incubator was, it would never help these babies if it stayed in a hospital.

To save the maximum number of lives, their design would have to function in a rural environment. It would have to work without electricity and be transportable, intuitive, sanitisable, culturally appropriate, and perhaps most importantly—inexpensive.

What a brilliant example of Reframing through Design Thinking!

The Product

Embrace1The team created their first prototype of the Embrace Incubator, which looked something like a sleeping bag. It wrapped around a premature infant, and a pouch of phase-change material (PCM) kept the baby’s body at exactly the right temperature—and maintained this temperature for up to four hours. After four hours, the PCM pouch could be “recharged” by submerging it in boiling water for a few minutes.

The Embrace Incubator is small and light, making it easy and inexpensive to transport to rural villages. The entire sleeping bag can be sanitized in boiling water. It is far more intuitive to use than traditional incubators, and fits well into the recommended practice of “Kangaroo Care,” where a mother holds her baby against her skin.

Finally, compared to the $20,000 price of a traditional incubator, the Embrace incubator only costs $25.

This video shows how they went about it.


The product uses an innovative wax incorporated in a sleeping bag to regulate a baby’s temperature. It stays warm without electricity, has no moving parts, is portable and is safe and intuitive to use. The Embrace Infant Warmer can be used in a clinical setting, for transporting babies, and in a community setting.

Since then

Since the class ended, the Embrace team has pushed forward and began to win awards and small amounts of seed funding from business plan competitions and attract media attention. Encouraged by these small victories, Embrace refined their design and is currently preparing for clinical trials in India. They have launched the first version of its product in India. Customers include private clinics, government clinics, and NGOs. Clinical studies have been conducted at multiple hospitals in India, as well as at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The organization has received its ISO certification, and will soon be applying for international regulatory approvals.

First version of the product launched in 2011, for clinical settings, and is currently being distributed to clinics in South India, where dozens of babies have already been impacted. Partnerships have been formed with several multinational organisations to distribute the product. The company has received numerous accolades, including the INDEX People’s Choice Award, the largest international design competition. In 2010, it was selected as an “Innovative Technology for Public Health” by the World Health Organisation. Media features have included TED, CNN, 20/20, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and numerous publications.


(With additional inputs from Stanford University Design for Extreme Affordability.)

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