Fabien Roy is a Swiss architect and designer who is a graduate of the University of Art and Design(ECAL), Switzerland. He has designed an incubator, which is currently the talk of the town, that runs on a thermal battery for infants who are likely to suffer from Hypothermia in the first month after birth, especially concerning the Sub- Saharan region of Africa. Incubators already did exist but were incapable to work during power blackouts that are very common in places like Kenya. What makes this design different is its capacity to keep the child warm for four hours if facing a power cut operating on a thermal battery installed for such scenarios. 

Robust Nest_ ©www.fabienroy.com

It is a small-scale incubator first exhibited at Milan design week 2021 at Alcova design show from 4th September to 12th September. It is an effort by Fabien Roy to save the lives of premature babies dying every year of Hypothermia in the region. Robust Nest is supposed to replace the traditional incubators that aren’t suitable for being used in hospitals in the area where frequent blackouts are a common event.

Power cut-resilient incubator to protect babies in sub-Saharan Africa from hypothermia created by Fabien Roy - Sheet1
Robust Nest during Blackouts_ ©www.fabienroy.com

The thought took birth after Roy read a report by UNICEF lamenting the death of around 1.1 million babies in the first month after birth due to Hypothermia in Sub-Saharan Africa. Incubators that are used in other industrialized areas cannot work out for these Sub-Saharan regions due to the high frequency of power cuts in the area. Standard traditional ones cannot provide heat once electric supply ceases, are difficult to carry around dirt roads of the region being bulky and non-handy, and are vulnerable to high humidity rates, dust, and temperature. 

The idea was conceived as a college project and Fabien contacted the Essential Tech Centre of EPFL hoping to seek support to carve the project into reality. He worked out on the design aspects and the Tech Centre helped with the Thermal battery which is the fundamental differentiating factor in this design.

The concept behind heat generation by the thermal battery after power cut is the pouch of paraffin wax it is placed inside. The heating of the battery converts the solid wax into liquid and that liquid solidifies after blackout producing heat that keeps the baby warm. Each battery is predicted to last 1 million cycles of heating and cooling. It is a necessity to transfer the newborns to the hospital so a metal ring is provided which acts as a bumper in case of any obstruction or impact when carried in a car tied to the seatbelt. This feature provides safety from mishappenings even outside the hospitals. The base is connected to the dome via the metal ring which is facilitated through a clip system to ensure proper cleaning and handling of incubators at hospitals.

Power cut-resilient incubator to protect babies in sub-Saharan Africa from hypothermia created by Fabien Roy - Sheet3
Ease of transportation using Robust Nest_ ©www.fabienroy.com

The size of the standard design is 16 times the size of the incubator by Fabien Roy. It also facilitates ease of movement as can be carried by an individual while other incubators require around 3 to 4 people to be carried around. The reduction in the involvement of people to carry and transfer babies further reduces the cost of shipment as one individual can be anyone from local logistics. 

Robust Nest is a sustainable design that revolves around the idea of uniqueness and workability. The entire life cycle of the incubator is analyzed to eradicate glitches or design failures. The architect believes that an issue for a project occurs where least expected, so the design is thought to come to life in a form not only restricted to hospital use. The needs of the users other than hospital people, who are responsible for repair and maintenance, and the ones responsible for transportation are addressed to come up with a design for all concepts. Numerous interviews and discussions with the medical staff and the specialists helped in the evolution of every prototype and each of them was checked on medical grounds to ensure utmost comfort and safety.

Power cut-resilient incubator to protect babies in sub-Saharan Africa from hypothermia created by Fabien Roy - Sheet2
The metal ring for handling and protection against sudden impacts_ ©www.fabienroy.com

Fabien Roy states that the size is based on the medical protocol of Kenya. The baby is 40cm big when removed from the incubator which is comparatively early in comparison to an area like Switzerland. Such incubators are an effective approach in areas where mothers traditionally give warmth to their newborns by skin-to-skin contact. 

The design is a minimalistic concept with a grey and white color model and orange signage to highlight details like round locks and clips. The dome of the incubator is made up of Polycarbonate. The detachable and stackable method is a convenient way to store incubators in a bulk quantity and especially in hospital premises where space is a constraint. The interface of design is pictogram oriented and not text which is language-based for ease of understanding.

As it is exhibited in Milan and lined up for being displayed at Swiss design awards at the end of September, Designer Fabien Roy shares the next step to be on-site testing of the incubator in Nairobi and District hospitals by the end of 2021. These tests will analyze the product on three grounds- Ergonomics, Interface, and Acceptance, and the feedback will further guide the upgradation in design.

The main idea of the whole process is to ensure that the product is released in the market for utilization and the severe health conditions can be minimized as much as possible.


Finney, A., 2021. Fabien Roy creates power cut-resilient incubator to protect babies in sub-Saharan Africa from hypothermia. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2021/09/08/robust-nest-portable-incubator-babies-hypothermia-sub-saharan-africa/> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

James Dyson Award. 2021. Robust Nest | James Dyson Award. [online] Available at: <https://www.jamesdysonaward.org/2021/project/robust-nest/> [Accessed 18 September 2021].

Youtube.com. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhY91Wzg7Oc> [Accessed 18 September 2021].


Aastha is an architecture graduate who is enthusiastic about playing with words and inditing the stories waiting to be told. Apart from being an expressionist she is an avid reader and a philomath on a journey to make a difference with her deeds.

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