Millions of premature babies are born every year, and more than a few of these births occur hours away from any hospital with a NICU. [Manoj]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize is a simple, but very useful primitive incubator. Is it as good as the incubators you would find in a world-class hospital? No, but that’s not the point. This is an incubator for the rest of the world, where neonatal care is lacking.
You’re not going to get mechanical respiration or even oxygen into a device that is meant for the most far-flung areas on the planet, so this incubator focuses almost solely on monitoring. Packed inside a premie-sized sleeping bag is enough electronics to measure heart rate, blood oxygen, temperature and respiration. Also, there are a few resistive fabric elements to turn electricity into warmth.
Of course, anything you would find in any hospital or clinic would greatly outclass what this project has to offer. That’s really not the point, though; this incubator is cheap, can be deployed anywhere, and provides enough information to hopefully keep a preterm child alive. That’s good enough for us, and makes for a great entry into the Hackaday Prize.
Preterm infants frequently require ventilator support while they’re in the neonatal ICU, and this is usually done with a CPAP machine. The machine to infant interface is called a nasal cannula, a bit of plastic that connects an infant’s nose to the machine. Because there aren’t that many sizes of nasal cannula available, and preemies come in all sizes, there are inevitable problems. Ill-fitting nasal cannula can reduce the effectiveness of a CPAP, and can even cause significant damage to an infant’s septum.
For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Ben] is tackling this problem head on. He’s working on creating individualized nasal cannula for newborns using 3D modeling and printing, allowing nasal cannula of all shapes and sizes to be created in a matter of hours.
To create these customized cannula, [Ben] is 3D scanning an infant mannequin head to gather enough data to import it into a Processing sketch. A custom cannula is then created and printed with flexible 3D printer filament. In theory, it should work, apart from the considerations involved in building a medical device.
As for why custom plastic tubes matter, [Ben] works at the only NICU in Western Australia. Even though he only sees 8-10 CPAP ‘pressure injuries’ in his unit each year, these kids are extremely fragile and some parents have expressed a desire for something that isn’t as uncomfortable for their newborn than the off-the-shelf solution. Customizing these cannula from a quick 3D scan is a great way to do that, and a perfect example of the Hackaday Prize theme of ‘build something that matters.’