Of all the branches of industrial design that one could pursue, the design of medical devices is arguably the most important to society—and the least sexy-sounding. Automotive design probably wins the Most Sexy title, at least in the eyes of your average starry-eyed design student, so it's ironic that medical design gets short shrift, in that the price points of the finished products can easily keep pace with automobiles. A high-end endoscope, for example, doesn't sound like much more than a glorified camera—but they can set a hospital back some 70 grand.
That means endoscopes are developed-nation-only devices, despite their universally lifesaving potential. But a company called Evotech, which is dedicated to "[designing] medical devices for the bottom of the pyramid," wants to change that. In partnership with IDEO.org, they won Gold in the Social Impact Design category of the 2013 IDEA program for their low-cost endoscope. "Using frugal innovation techniques," Evotech writes, "we developed a light, portable endoscopy prototype for a fraction of the price of existing solutions."
Evotech and [IDEO.org] redesigned the Low-Cost Portable Endoscope with off-the-shelf parts as a $250-$2,500 device powered by a laptop, making the endoscope smaller, portable, energy efficient, durable, waterproof and with the ability to manufacture at scale.
The challenge was to improve the device's industrial design and develop a business model that would sustain it—and get the device to doctors whose patients would benefit from its use. With regard to the device's design, the endoscope needed to enable doctors to make more precise diagnoses and to perform surgeries through a small incision, reducing patients' risk of infection and recovery time. The endoscope also had to have the ability to be sterilized.
...In a pilot study, Evotech distributed devices to Medicine for Humanity doctors with endoscopic training who were traveling to Uganda, where they used the prototype to successfully treat more than 20 women with vesicovaginal fistula. These types of cases previously were out of reach for surgical repair by Medicine for Humanity physicians. In India, local physicians used the device in more than 30 clinical evaluations and procedures.
Prototyping led to the final design. Evotech experts iterated and tested the endoscope handle and waterproof casing. In less than a month, and guided by doctors' feedback, the team built 11 versions of the handle, designing a heat sink and enclosure for the device's LED light source, which plugs into the USB port on a computer to power the device remotely.
...Evotech designed the Low-Cost Portable Endoscope with a simple shell that can be machined from medical-grade ABS at small production scales, which is key. The same design can transition to injection molding in higher quantities.
The most talented team of automotive designers and engineers in the world cannot design a $2,500 car that delivers similar performance to a $70,000 automobile. Our hats are off to Evotech and IDEO.org who are, collectively, the sexy librarian that just took her glasses off and shook her hair out.