The tagline of our site is "Changing the world, bit by bit," and I wanted to call your attention to a development project at Rice University that is doing just that -- changing the world.
For its senior capstone project, a team of Rice bioengineering majors has developed an MCU-based monitor for premature newborns that can help prevent death due to sleep apnea. The design targets emerging nations by being low-cost (less than $25) and relatively low-tech.
It began with the knowledge that nearly half of the 12 million babies born prematurely in developing countries experience episodes of apnea, a condition in which the patient simply stops breathing for a short period. In most cases, the patient starts up again with a sudden inhalation. In some cases, though, the patient does not start back up spontaneously. Even then, a simple touch or gentle shaking often triggers breathing again. But if no one notices the patient has stopped breathing and takes action, the condition becomes fatal.
Team Breath Alert (shown in the photo below) set out to produce a design that would monitor a premature baby's breathing and take appropriate action if it halted. The aim was to assist caregivers in the relatively low-tech, underfunded, and often crowded neonatal facilities in developing nations. Part of the design goal was to keep the costs as low as possible and the technology simple and durable.
Team Breath Alert
The finished design uses a stretch sensor to detect the expansion and deflation of the baby's chest, helping to minimize the false alarms that can render such monitors unreliable. If breathing is suspended for too long, the unit triggers a small motor to produce a vibration that might stimulate breathing. Should the breathing remain suspended, the unit starts flashing a red alarm light that is readily visible across the room. The video below provides more design details, as well as a demonstration.
This design is a great example of how MCU-based systems can improve life one small step at a time, and Team Breath Alert deserves a hearty "well done" from all of us. To truly show your appreciation, though, you can log on to Dell's Social Innovation Challenge and vote for the Babalung Apnea Monitor. The deadline for People's Choice voting is May 13.
Do you know of an MCU-based design that will help change the world? Let us know in the comments section below.
We could put together a criteria list for judging, have the MCC community review and vote on the entries (first round, then a finalist round). We could also consider having levels of competition: Professional, College, Other? (Hobbyist). I am sure that there is a lot of logistics but if we could get other online communities (EETimes, etc..) involved it could generate a lot of buzz and be an inspiration to the "on line" community. Just a few thoughts and encouragements.. :)
RD, I like the contest idea. Let me dwell on it a bit and see what I can come up with. THere's lots to consider, including the guidelines for evaluating contest entries and logistics of conducting the evaluations. It's actually a fair amount of work, but might be just the thing to generate excitement. Stay tuned.
Rich, I have not lost a son/daughter but can only imagine the pain. This low cost smart approach to monitoring is a GREAT use of MCUs. I wonder if Micro-controller Central would sponsor a contest to encourage the design and creativity that are in our community? We could have an external sponsor provide a prize and get the word out to college students and professionals alike! We have an AED at work and 20% of the staff took training on the use and administering of CPR with the AED. It was well worth the time spent knowing that someday one of us could save a life.
I am all but fascinated by this innovative product. Above all it shows that the younger generation is not just for creating some fun games on those smart phones but thinks about applying the technology for improving quality of life - and that also life of the poor people.
This Apnoea Monitor is a vital tool in alerting the clinicians and the parents in mainly tackling the SIDS. As my little knowledge goes, this SIDS is something for which sometimes the root cause is not known and can prove fatal in case not monitored properly.
Kudos to the team for making it possible to be available at so low a cost. As a medical equipment designer, I am not able to imagine such economy. However, if NGOs and Governments can fund this project and production is in bulk, the day is not far wherein this device may even become free to the downtrodden people.
I think Vish2207's water project in India qualifies as a potential significant game-changer. And there are a number of projects I've read about recently that bring solar- and biomass generated electriciity -- and hence reliable, battery-stored night-time lighting -- to small villages. These systems depend on MCUs to reduce cost and extend battery and system lifetimes.
And it's not quite MCU -- but the internet and very low cost computing devices are about to revolutionize children's education in the developing world in ways that I don't think we can even imagine yet. Take a look at Rasberry Pie (of course the HDMI port is a bit of a stretch for a child in the Sudan -- not to mention the electricity to power such a device -- but "one bit at a time"...)
I must admit to a special fondness for technology that helps children. I all but lost my son at age 15 and an AED unit would have saved him from permanent harm had one been available and used at his school. Our family worked to get those units into schools after the event, in the hopes no one else would have to go through what we did.
Having faced such loss I know how worthwhile devices like the Babalung are if they can keep even one family from losing their child.