All-terrain technology for developing countries

Feb 08, 2013
© EPFL

EPFL is launching "EssentialTech," a unique program in which engineers will in particular produce medical devices custom-designed for the difficult conditions encountered in developing countries.

has a tough time in ; the supply of electricity is unreliable, components are costly and fragile, and there is a lack of qualified personnel for maintenance. To solve this problem, EPFL's Center for Cooperation and Development is launching an ambitious initiative. The EssentialTech program brings together companies and from north and south with the of that are custom made for the needs of developing countries. Scientists are currently working on a device that can operate in extreme and difficult conditions. A prototype of a and a high-voltage circuit, jointly developed between EPFL' Distributed Lab and the Universities of Applied Sciences in Sion and Yverdon, are already being tested.

More than two-thirds of medical equipment is never used

The WHO statistics are alarming. More than 70% of high-tech medical equipment sent to Africa is never used, due to lack of adequate infrastructure or trained maintenance personnel. Even when the equipment can be put into service, electrical surges or hot and often result in failure after just a few months of use. "Sometimes, we have to deal with problems that are as trivial as they are unsolvable," explains EssentialTech program director Klaus Schönenberger. "For example, some material we simply can't even plug in, because it requires three-phase current, such as we use for our electric stovetops, and the hospital is only equipped with standard single-phase current."

A custom-made imaging device

EssentialTech's basic idea is simple but ambitious – to totally rethink the design of medical equipment. The first project is a medical imaging device designed specifically for the needs of developing countries. Engineers are working on a power supply and a high-voltage circuit that can provide uninterrupted power in the presence of power surges and power outages.

Two-thirds of the world population doesn't have access to imaging technology, explains Schönenberger. By combining x-ray and ultrasound technology, the machine will be able to cover 90% of the needs of a typical district hospital.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

In Switzerland, more than 20 engineers are working together with the EPFL team to design the prototype. The Universities of Applied Sciences in Yverdon and Sion are involved in developing the electrical circuits. The Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) is in charge of developing the imaging component, and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) is providing practical expertise. On the industry side, scientists are benefiting from the know-how of Swiss company Betschart AG.

Cameroon is a partner in the project. EPFL and the Ecole nationale supérieure polytechnique de Yaoundé recently signed an agreement for a joint laboratory. Swiss and Cameroon researchers, with the participation of local partners, will field test the imaging device and put in place a strategy to deploy it at an affordable price.

Going beyond traditional philanthropy

For Schönenberger, a project like this is much like working with the space industry. "Once it's launched, a satellite must be able to function for years. It's the same with medical equipment destined for the outback. Except in our case, we have to take into account cost and mass-production considerations."

EssentialTech has a clear and unique philosophy. The goal is clearly to establish a trade chain that can benefit each participant. This is an important issue, according to Bertrand Klaiber, head of commercial strategy in EssentialTech. "It's a situation in which traditional philanthropy shows its limitations. To ensure the survival of the system, you can't be dependent on sporadic donations; you have to develop chains for production, distribution, education and maintenance in which every actor is paid for his or her work."

Energy and water treatment

Engineers are also working on an incubator for newborns, and looking into developing modules that could stabilize electricity supply in hospitals. The EssentialTech team is also already applying the basic idea in other critical areas such as drinking water treatment and energy. A complete first prototype of the should be ready within two years.

Explore further: Researchers increase the switching contrast of an all-optical flip-flop

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New technology sharpens X-ray vision

Jan 20, 2008

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the EPFL in Switzerland have developed a novel method for producing dark-field x-ray images at wavelengths used in typical medical and industrial imaging ...

A power grid on a chip

Jun 09, 2011

Presented during the EPFL Middle East research days, a device only 4mm thick can manage an urban power grid a thousand times faster than currently possible.

Swiss craft janitor satellites to grab space junk

Feb 15, 2012

The tidy Swiss want to clean up space. Swiss scientists said Wednesday they plan to launch a "janitor satellite" specially designed to get rid of orbiting debris known as space junk.

Saving energy with power grid of the future

Nov 02, 2010

Green energy too comes out of the electricity socket, but to get there it has to travel a long journey – from wind turbines in the North Sea or regional solar, wind and biogas power plants. On the way ...

Recommended for you

Intelligent materials that work in space

Oct 23, 2014

ARQUIMEA, a company that began in the Business Incubator in the Science Park of the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, will be testing technology it has developed in the International Space Station. The technology ...

Using sound to picture the world in a new way

Oct 22, 2014

Have you ever thought about using acoustics to collect data? The EAR-IT project has explored this possibility with various pioneering applications that impact on our daily lives. Monitoring traffic density ...

User comments : 0