Photo of James Roberts

Biotechnology & medicine

James Roberts

His incubator, which is inflatable, portable, and powered by a battery, could save the lives of millions of premature babies
James Roberts

Year Honored

mOm Incubators


Hails From
United Kingdom

After seeing a documentary about the crisis in Syria, the British engineer and designer James Roberts was struck by one of the country’s tragedies: almost an entire generation of children had disappeared due to the high mortality rate among premature babies. Having found out about this reality, he set to work to solve a problem that affects the entire world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, which is equivalent to 10% of births. Out of those, one million a year die. However, 75% of these cases could be avoided with simple actions.

One of these is to keep babies in incubators to control their body temperature because hypothermia is the leading cause of death in these cases. However, not all medical centers can access incubators. They are expensive (costing around €16,000), difficult to transport due to their size and weight, and they need annual maintenance. With the aim of ensuring access to this healthcare service all over the world, Roberts launched his company mOm and through it he created his own incubator. Thanks to his innovation’s potential to save millions of lives, Roberts has become one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe 2018 from MIT Technology Review.

His model is less expensive, can be folded, and is controlled electronically. Thanks to technology based on airflow, it creates a thermo-regulated environment that meets the standards established for conventional incubators. “Technically, it works the same as other incubators. What makes it different is that its design is compact and lightweight (it weighs up to 90% less than traditional models)," says Roberts. “In addition, it can be folded as if it were a briefcase, which means that it can be transported and stored anywhere in the world", he adds.

But treating hypothermia is not the only factor to be taken into account when creating these products. The second leading cause of death for premature babies is related to infections associated with incubators. To avoid the spread of diseases, mOm has an inflatable structure to accommodate the baby, and this can be replaced for each child. As a result, the risk of contagion is reduced.

And as if that were not enough, the mOm incubator is specially prepared for hostile environments. Its robust design withstands potential incidents, and its rechargeable battery works in the event of an intermittent electricity supply. 

After years of research, and having survived the testing phase, Roberts’ objective is to use his incubators in clinical trials in the United Kingdom and in sub-Saharan African countries. He already has a patent in the United Kingdom and is pending receipt of the CE mark to standardize the incubator as a medical device in Europe. According to the company’s own calculations, there are 600,000 healthcare institutions such as health centers, NGOs and hospitals, which might benefit from the mOm incubator. To date they have had requests to supply 425 units and have received some 2.5 million euros from grants and venture capital funds.

Victoria Hernández, head of the investment committee of Rising Tide Europe 3, and member of the jury for the Innovators Under 35 Europe 2018, believes that "this is an innovation with a high social impact that solves a global problem".  According to the expert, Roberts "is an entrepreneur with a charismatic and cooperative personality".

By Alba Casilda
Translation: Lisa Rushforth