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Robust Nest

Adapted newborn incubator for Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Robust Nest, general view during hospital use.

  • The video shows the assembly of the incubator parts.

    The video shows the assembly of the incubator parts.

  • Robust Nest, patient transfer.

  • Robust Nest, general view during blackout in hospital.

  • Robust Nest, dome opening.

  • Robust Nest, locking system for transport mode.

What it does

Each year in sub-Saharan Africa, 1 million newborns die of hypothermia during their first month of life. Robust Nest resists frequent blackout thanks to a special thermal battery, allows the transport of patients and is characterized by replaceable components.

Your inspiration

It all started when I read a UNICEF report deploring the high infant mortality due to hypothermia in sub-Saharan Africa. Existing incubators in industrialized countries cannot fulfill the technical specifications of sub-Saharan Africa. The main causes are their inability to provide heat during frequent blackout, the difficulty to transport heavy and bulky devices on dirt road and their vulnerability to high humidity rates, dust and temperatures. I initiated this project during my diploma and collaborated with the Essential Tech Center of EPFL who developed in parallel a special thermal battery dedicated to newborn incubators.

How it works

The thermal battery can provide heat up to 4 hours during blackout. Heated by an electrical resistance, paraffin pouches will liquefy. During a power cut, the paraffin solidifies and releases heat. The transfer of newborns is a real need. The metal ring designed serves to carry the incubator by hand to the vehicle, fasten the seat belt and acts as a bumper in case of impact. A unique clip hinge system has been developed to connect the base to the dome via the metal ring. This facilitates cleaning, hospital storage and the replacement or repair of parts. Individual shipment is possible in standard international parcels. The incubator base fits into the dome and thus reduces the size. Batch shipment is also efficient (10 Robust Nest units fit into 1 standard incubator package). The local logistic on dirt roads is facilitated thanks to the size and weight. It can be transported by car and carried by one person (standard incubators > 3-4 people to carry them).

Design process

The design approach was unique for this project which is set in a very specific context. The entire life cycle of the incubator was considered to ensure that at no stage an obstacle would be fatal to the device. The world of humanitarian aid teaches us that the potentially fatal issue for a project occurs when/where we do not expect it. In order to offer an incubator adapted to this part of the world, my decision was made to develop a design that goes beyond hospital use. The aesthetic and functional choices therefore also reflect what happens before and after life in hospital. It is this approach that makes Robust Nest a real sustainable project. I could have access to a network with internationally renowned specialists in neonatology and in deployment of technology and services for newborn in Southern countries. The development of this project was based on extensive research and interviews. A series of ideations and iterations followed, each time marked by hospital tests with prototypes and intense discussions with medical staff and specialists. I was able to identify the needs of future users. Not only in the context of district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa, but also upstream (logistics, transport) and downstream (replacement of broken parts, recycling).

How it is different

Robust Nest size is unique and was defined with the assistance of specialists by considering local medical protocol which differs from industrialised countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, newborns are removed earlier (when the size of about 40cm is reached). Then the skin-to-skin method is preferred. Compared to existing incubators, the size combined with the removable and stackable parts make Robust Nest really efficient and economy for shipment and local logistic which are huge challenges according to specialists. It also allows parts to be replaced. The versatility of Robust Nest which offers the possibility of being used both in hospital and for transferring patients is an aspect that is much required by specialists. The special thermal battery ensures the heated environment is kept warm during power cuts and patient transfer. The interface of Robust Nest is language independent. The language barrier is often a fatal problem for existing incubators.

Future plans

The next Milestone will be an on-site testing in Nairobi and in district hospitals by the end of 2021. These tests concern product ergonomics, acceptance and interface. After the feedback received from the field, a period of further development will follow. The aim of this project is to produce it within the next few years. The aim is to have as great an impact as possible in order to reduce this unacceptable health situation.


Swiss Design Award 2021, Nomination (result by the end of 2021) Index Award 2021, Nomination (result by the end of 2021)

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