Design Group

The Design Group designs and implements low-cost medical devices tailored to needs and resources available in low-resource areas. Ideas for projects come directly from the needs assessment conducted during our annual trips to one of our partner hospitals abroad.

2017 – 2018

During our first year as an organization, we were affiliated with Engineering World Health. For EWH’s annual design competition, we developed a low-cost suction machine, useful for medical practices involving the extraction of bodily fluids during surgery.

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The Idea:

  • Select a suction machine from an Engineering World Health survey of doctors about common medical devices they are lacking
  • Will be used in surgery to clear operational site
  • Medical suction machines:
    • Clear airways of saliva, blood, vomit, or other fluid
    • Portable equipment costs $300 – $1000+

Our Design:

  • Portable air compressors for tires have a motor which push air into a tire.
  • This flow is conserved, with a hole in the motor for sucking in the motor.
  • An attachment through this hole, with a hose and filter system adjusted for liquid usage was made and demonstrated to work to a certain standard.
  • This design is made with many objectives in mind:
    • Low cost:  Most suction machines are extremely pricey, orders of magnitude more than our assembly
    • Ability to run on different sources: The tire pump was designed to run on the standard 12 Volt car battery, and has a power outlet adapter if needed, as well
    • Easy to understand: This device is simple enough and relatively easy to take apart and reconstruct, useful to overcome the barrier of a low number of technicians and engineers in certain countries

To create our design, we used:

  • Car tire pump repurposed to provide vacuum
  • Battery / AC power
  • Easily replaceable fluid collection bin

Our design was assembled for ~$60!


The following year, we created a side-stream capnometer for EWH’s design competition.

A capnography or capnometry device measures the concentration of exhaled carbon dioxide, also known as end-tidal CO2 (ETCO2). For a healthy person, the range for ETCO2 is typically 35-45 mm Hg.

The Need:

According to a study done by the Global Capnography Project, published in the journal, Anesthesia:

“There is a clear need for middle and low-income countries to have access to a simple and life-saving method of monitoring a patient’s breathing, called capnography.”

11,000 potentially fatal anesthetic accidents could be prevented every year by access to a capnograph.

Side-stream Capnography:

Side-stream: An indirect method of measuring exhaled CO2 in a non-intubated patient

  • Sensor located away from the airway
  • Gas moved to sensor by pump inside the monitor
  • Use with cannula or adapt for ventilator airway
  • Water traps, filters, or dehumidification tubing may be required

Design Process:

  • After many attempts to get the IR emitter working, the I2C protocol worked with the emitter
  • A proper holder for the device was designed in SolidWorks
  • A cannula was fitted to the device’s opening and exit for circulation
  • The code was written and a Adafruit screen was coded to display the Co2 emission in standard format


After our first trip to Ethiopia, we decided to disaffiliate from EWH and refocus the Design Group. During the trip, we interviewed several nurses, doctors, and technicians from different departments to see which medical devices were giving them the most problems. Based on our findings, we decided to make a LED surgical lamp prototype.

The Need:

The hospital suffered frequent power outages and a lack of consumables. As one can imagine, having the power, and thus, the lights, go out during a surgery can be extremely dangerous. In addition, since most of the surgical lamps were donated, they relied on halogen bulbs, which are much more expensive to import from overseas.

The Design:

With those design constraints, we created a low-cost ($150) surgical lamp that used LED bulbs and was powered by a car battery. We communicated back and forth with the technicians in the Biomedical Engineering Department to ensure that all of the materials used were available in Addis Ababa. We used mostly aluminum rods, springs, and hinges to assemble the lamp. We brought the prototype to Ethiopia on our second annual trip and worked with the technicians to solve a few problems we encountered, such as the weight of the battery hindering the lamp’s mobility, exposed wires, and the weight of the bulbs preventing the lamp from the staying up.

To learn more about the lamp design and our most recent trip, check out our report below!

Ethiopia 2020 Final Report-4


This upcoming year, we will be working on two projects:

  1. ECG electrodes for St. Paul’s in Ethiopia
  2. Walkers for hospitals in Rwanda

If you would like to get involved in either group, we meet weekly during the fall/spring semesters and bi-weekly during the summer. We are still in the research phase, but hope to start prototyping this fall.