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[Herald Interview] Korean team wins James Dyson Award with ‘hands-free’ IV drip

Invention aims to improve convenience, speed of IV injection in life-saving emergency response

Nov. 15, 2023 - 15:39 By Jo He-rim
A Korean team of four Hongik University students won the top honor of The James Dyson Award with their hands-free intravenous drip device. From left: Kim Dae-yeon, Bai Yuan, Chae Yu-jin and Shin Young-hwan pose for a photo during an interview held in Seoul on Nov. 13. (Dyson Korea)

A group of Korean university students has won the top honors at The James Dyson Award, an international engineering competition for young innovators, with their unique invention -- a “hands-free” intravenous drip device.

The award was launched by The James Dyson Foundation, an international charity of Sir James Dyson, the founder and chief engineer of the UK appliance giant, in 2005. The billionaire inventor handpicks the award winners every year.

This is the first time that a Korean team has won the top prize.

Currently, IV therapy is administered by gravity or an electronic infusion device. The bag should be held up high enough for the fluid to go downward, causing inconvenience to both patients and medical workers, especially in emergency situations.

But the Korean team’s invention, called The Golden Capsule, does not rely on gravity or electricity. Instead, it uses a pressurized bladder based on the engineering principle of air pressure difference and the material’s elasticity.

The device is designed to deflate slowly, pressurizing the drip into the patient. It can be positioned anywhere, such as strapped to the patient’s side, to free up medical personnel to perform other lifesaving work.

“The team has identified the limitations of existing IV injection methods, which rely on gravity and electricity, in disaster zones. Their Golden Capsule offers a much more practical, hands-free solution,“ Dyson said in his congratulatory remarks. He was appointed Knight Bachelor in the 2007 New Year Honours for services to business.

“The Golden Capsule really caught my eye because that’s solving a real problem that no one has bothered to solve before.”

The team consists of four students from Hongik University in Seoul – Chae Yu-jin and Bai Yuan, who are majoring in industrial design, and Kim Dae-yeon and Shin Young-hwan, who are majoring in mechanical engineering. They first teamed up in March to work on their graduation project.

“It is an honor to receive the award from Sir Dyson, and it is an enlightening experience for us to learn how simple engineering principles and the right design can make the biggest improvements,“ Chae told The Korea Herald in an interview on Monday.

“Golden Capsule is made to operate without relying on gravity. Dyson has also launched bagless vacuum cleaners and bladeless fans. Sometimes it is more innovative to get rid of something than adding more.”

Golden Capsule (Dyson)

Their idea of a portable IV drip pump came from their personal experiences. It was when Chae was hospitalized after getting COVID-19 that she learned how inconvenient it was to have to push around the IV pole everywhere she went.

Bai, who is from China‘s Sichuan province, recalled her experience during the 2008 massive earthquake that killed about 1,600 people in her hometown. She saw the paramedics’ struggles to maintain IV drips up high while transferring stretchers through the earthquake rubble.

Golden Capsule has also more than doubled the speed of injection compared to conventional IV pumps as it controls the speed in three levels. This feature would play a crucial role in emergency situations when paramedics have to deliberately squeeze the IV drip bags to save lives, the team explained.

The team has already made patent applications on the related technology and design as they wish to commercialize the idea in the near future.

They have also applied for a review by the Institutional Review Board, which deliberates on the ethical and scientific validity of human-targeted research.

The team said they are also working on a new prototype that is more practical, cheaper and environmentally friendly after thorough consultations with doctors and other medical experts. Conventional IV bags are made of vinyl and cost just 600 won ($0.50) per pack.

“What we learned from doctors and professionals is that IV drips are largely received as an area of public welfare,” Chae explained. “As our device aims at securing the golden time to save lives, we also plan to seek funding from governments or international institutions.”

The team, who was chosen among a shortlist of 20 finalists, receives 30,000 pounds ($37,000) to support the next stages of their inventions.