For nearly 30 days a year, approximately 60% of women experience primary dysmenorrhea, cramping pain in the lower abdomen during menstruation, and describe the pain as moderate to severe. To date, there has been little innovation in this category, with common recommended treatments consisting of anti-inflammatory medications, hormonal birth control or placing a hot water bottle on the abdomen. Avoiding single-use products and opting for more natural treatment options are becoming more mainstream, making the available pain relievers in need of modernization.
To tackle this problem, a team from the University of Toronto set out to design an innovative solution specifically targeted towards menstrual pain, with the invention of Undu. Undu is a slim, wearable, and reusable heat pack to help relieve the pain of monthly menstrual cramps, designed by Charlie Katrycz, Robin Linton, Katherine Porter and Graham McLaughlin. This innovation earned them the top place in the 2019 national James Dyson Award in Canada.
There are two parts to the Undu technology — the process and the product. The patented manufacturing process combines both digital fabrication and injection air casting to create a silicone mould that spontaneously divides into unique channels, similar to tree branches. These channels are injected with sodium acetate and a small stem is inserted inside the liquid. When the stem is agitated, it causes crystallization in the liquid, naturally projecting 55 degrees Celsius heat throughout the packet.
Charlie Katrycz, Undu said: “I was always interested in fluids and biomimicry—applying natures designs to products and technology in the real world—because you essentially get shapes for free. Our fabrication process doesn’t exist in the industrial world and we’re excited to apply it to such a common problem.”
The byproduct of this process is a thin, reusable and low cost heat pack that is soft to the touch, portable and comfortable for the user. When researching the current market, the team found that it does not have many competitors.
Graham McLaughlin, Undu said: “When researching what solutions are available for menstrual pain, we found that products like heating pads need to be plugged into a wall and are therefore not portable. Other solutions like hot water bottles are simply bulky and indiscreet.”
Unlike these existing heated options, Undu is designed to be slim so that it can be applied to the lower abdomen and worn within underwear lining so the user benefits from discreet pain relief outside of the home. The heat packet is also reusable and users can reset the heat by simply placing the silicone in hot water for two to three minutes then reapply. The first working prototype currently maintains heat for a total of 20 minutes, with strong heat for 10 minutes. The team is currently working on the next iteration and creating a formula that can produce heat for up to an hour, for long-lasting relief. They will use the $3,000 James Dyson Award prize money to produce more prototypes and purchase materials to create the heat pack.
After conducting an initial survey about how women manage their menstrual pain, the team learned the significance of the problem and how this pain can be overwhelming for some women. The respondents were eager for a new and innovative way to make them more comfortable.
Katherine Porter, Undu said: “The inspiration for the project is simple. If women had a seat at the table earlier in history, we believe this problem would have been addressed sooner. Designs like the hot water bottle have been around for years but haven’t evolved, which shows that menstrual pain is an invisible problem and one that affects half the population. There is no better reason to invest our time into a solving a problem like this.”
The team has been developing Undu for 10 years and are continuing to make changes and updates to the design. They are looking for more respondents for their survey and volunteer prototype testers to feedback on their design. To find out more, visit the Undu website.
The Runners Up
interpretAR – McMaster University
Problem: When an individual suffers from hearing impairment, conversations can become inconvenient - getting the point across is challenging and meaning can be lost. While closed captioning is available, at times it can feel robotic and expressionless. Having the option to incorporate sign language alongside these modules would allow individuals to use their preferred method of communication.
Solution: interpretAR is a mobile application to solve two problems: to help with every day inconveniences for the hearing impaired, and to act as a learning aid for those who want to learn sign language. This is accomplished by integrating augmented reality into the app.
Aeroflux contactless brakes – University of Toronto
Problem: Conventional multiple-disc carbon brakes rely on friction to stop an aircraft. This technology can wear very quickly and need constant replacement. This can waste funds, natural resources, and energy.
Solution: Aeroflux brakes use the Eddy Current Principle to stop an aircraft without friction, and therefore without wear. A magnetic field is applied to both sides of two conductive, non-ferromagnetic discs. As the rotors move across the magnetic field, small circular electric currents are induced in the rotors. This generate a magnetic field in an opposing direction than the stationary magnetic field. The interaction of these fields applies a drag force on the rotors that results in a braking torque.
Undu and the two national runners up, interpretAR and Aeroflux Contactless Brakes will move onto the next stage of the James Dyson Award where a panel of Dyson engineers will select a top 20 international shortlist.