Aero: A Cooling System for Healthcare Workers in West Africa

Patrick, another team member, wears Aero

Designed with 3 other Yale students for a course in Appropriate Technology for the Developing World, we decided to focus on healthcare workers in addressing the Ebola epidemic. Our proposed solution, Aero, is a personal cooling system which works by circulating dehumidified air inside their personal protective equipment (PPE) to aid in evaporative cooling and increase comfort. Because the unit is worn under PPE, it’s compatible with different types of suits clinics use based on availability.

West Africa, where the 2014 Ebola outbreak occurred, is incredibly hot and humid. Because healthcare workers must wear many layers of protective gear, they are limited to working an hour at a time. Furthermore, heat tires doctors and nurses. Cooling seemed to be the best way to address comfort and safety at the same time, since improved comfort would allow healthcare workers to focus better on their work and provide better care to their patients. This is crucial in the stressful, life-or-death environment of an Ebola Treatment Center.

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We followed an iterative design process, first researching the topic, then brainstorming in increasing fidelity of ideas, then finally breaking into our teams for the project to work on realizing a proof of concept. Even within the realization phase of the project, we tested different air sources, tube placements, and housing configurations to determine which would be best. With our most developed prototype of Aero, one group member was able to feel much cooler when using Aero than without. After working out and donning PPE, his neck was no longer sweaty, and subjective heat and discomfort were much reduced.

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This prototype consisted 4 small fans, taken from miniature camping mattress pumps, a layer of desiccant through which air flowed to dry it, and tubes which directed the air to the most important points of cooling: the neck and core. The fans were powered by a rechargeable battery whose port could be accessed from the exterior of the housing, which was 3D printed and designed on Solidworks. The unit was designed to keep running during a healthcare worker’s entire shift, which we aimed to increase to two hours, on one charge.

Future iterations would include collaborating with partners in West Africa (or other areas fighting infectious diseases which require protective equipment) and sharing insights with the cooling team at Johns Hopkins University, who are working to redesign the entire PPE suit (see here).

Helping healthcare workers keep their cool.