Innovation the World Can Live With: Car-Based Incubators

December 16, 2008
CIMIT incubator

CIMIT incubator

From fuel cells to morphable frames, a lot of new car concepts cross our desks at We also witness plenty of developments on the green/eco front--most recently encapsulated in Colin's totally excellent cross-country biodiesel adventure. But it's rare to see a story that covers both of those bases quite as well as this New York Times piece about car parts being used to build low-cost hospital incubators. The implications for communities around the world are staggering.

The man behind the idea--Dr. Jonathan Rosen of Boston University--had many conversations with health care providers working in impoverished areas. As a longtime proponent of sustainable technology, he eventually realized that "no matter how remote the locale, there always seemed to be a Toyota 4Runner in working order." Rosen's wheels kept spinning until finally an idea was born:

The heat source is a pair of headlights. A car door alarm signals emergencies. An auto air filter and fan provide climate control.

But this contraption has nothing to do with transportation. It is a sturdy, low-cost incubator, designed to keep vulnerable newborns warm during the first fragile days of life.

Unlike the notoriously high-maintenance incubators found in neonatal intensive care units in the United States, it is easily repaired, because all of its operational parts come from cars.

And while incubators can cost $40,000 or more, this one can be built for less than $1,000.

It's not the only solution to the problem of infant mortality, but it's a good one--and you can thank Dr. Rosen and the world's automakers for it. -- Richard Read

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