Five bioengineering students from Rice University have designed a device that could potentially save six million lives. This number is half of the 12 million babies born prematurely in developing countries who experience episodes of apnea. Oftentimes, a gentle nudge or tap on the foot prompts the newborn to breathe again, but in developing countries where clinics are often understaffed to care for all the infants, even this simple act may come when it’s too late.
The device is called Babalung, and it consists of a small electronic microcontroller connected to an adjustable strap with a stretch sensor. Babalung features two lines of defense: the first uses the stretch sensor wrapped around the infant’s chest to monitor breathing. If 20 seconds goes by without the stretch sensor expanding or contracting, the microcontroller turns on a vibrating motor to prompt the infant to take a breath. The second line of defense occurs five seconds later if the infant has not resumed breathing; a flashing bike light raised above the crib will alert the nurse to give immediate medical attention. The infant’s respiratory data can also be sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone or computer for a physician to analyze if necessary.
The Rice students (called Team BreathAlert) focused heavily on designing Babalung specifically for developing countries, which is reflected in the device’s simple and low-tech, but effective design. Babalung is portable and battery-powered, unlike expensive and power-intensive neonatal apnea monitors commonly found in the U.S. and other developed countries. With a cost of less than $25, it’s a device that hopefully can be used all over the world.
Take a look at this video explaining how Babalung works:
News article from Rice University: Babalung gets babies breathing again…