24-year-old NUS graduate wins national James Dyson Award for first-of-its-kind open heart surgery rehab tool

Apart from receiving $8,000 in funding, his invention has also been shortlisted for the international award.

Farhana Subuhan

A punctuation enthusiast who thinks misplaced apostrophes are a crime.

Published: 13 September 2023, 1:47 PM

Having undergone two open-heart surgeries at just 24 years old, Siew E Ian thought of finding a way to expedite the recovery process.

He suffered from immense pain for three to four months due to the slow fusion of his sternum bone while recovering from his most recent surgery in 2021. He realised that existing braces on the market currently lack sufficient stability and can be uncomfortable for patients to wear.

Drawing from his personal experience and tapping on his skills as a design engineer, he reimagined how sternal and cardiac rehabilitation could look like. That gave birth to his invention – a vest-like device designed for heart patients discharged from hospital to aid in their recovery – for which he was named as the Singapore winner for The James Dyson Award on Wednesday (Sep 13).

Called Auxobrace, the device helps provide the right balance of pressure and comfort on the body of the recovering patient.

It incorporates a mini vacuum pump to extract air from the internal structure of the vest which results in targeted pressure and force around the chest. The internal structure comprises mini cubes with precise gaps that close as air is evacuated, causing the fabric to shrink and contract uniformly.  The sternum support section features a finger joint-like design that bends inward when air is removed, providing optimal inward support and stability to the sternum bone, ensuring it will not move or slide any activity.

There are also two front touch buttons that allow patients to control the vacuum and pressure needed for a variety of activities.

Ian, who graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design, will receive $8,000 to further develop Auxobrace. Already, he has a patent in Singapore, and he is collaborating with experts from NUS and National University Health System (NUHS) to further develop and commercialise the product.

The invention involved 10 prototypes and nearly a year of research and development. Beyond testing the prototypes on himself, he also involved other recovered patients to ensure comprehensive feedback.


Ian says that he developed Auxobrace with the “intention of bringing back the human touch in this digital world”. PHOTO CREDIT: THE JAMES DYSON AWARD


As the national winner, Auxobrace will progress to the international stage of the James Dyson Award. The international top 20 shortlist will be announced on Oct 18, with international winners announced on Nov 15.

Ian said that he is “extremely grateful for the recognition from the James Dyson Award.”

“I hope to inspire and encourage people to reimagine the potential of rehabilitation because there are always better ways we can recover,” he added.

Ian’s project was among the 48 entries entered into the Singapore edition of The James Dyson Award. The annual global student design competition encourages young individuals to “design something that solves a problem.”

This year’s runners up are Project Mimir, an innovative and accessible Braille embosser designed by a team of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) students, and a thermal floater designed by a NUS and Indian Institute of Technology student.

Project Mimir consists of 23-year-old Sarah Loo, 24-year-old Colin Teoh, 24-year-old Michael Lim Kee Hian, 24-year-old Shamoeel Moochhala and 21-year-old Kushagra Jain.

Their creation, the Braille embosser, is engineered to convert text into Braille. The team drew inspiration from addressing the challenge of having limited access to Braille materials, an essential element of education and communication for the visually impaired community.

Realising that many of the Braille embossers available in the market were both costly and inaccessible, the team from SUTD created an economical and user-friendly solution that would empower visually impaired individuals to produce Braille materials independently.


The Mimir embosser takes anywhere between seven to 15 minutes to emboss one page. PHOTO CREDIT: THE JAMES DYSON AWARD


The Mimir embosser is a modified 3D printer that taps on a special software to turn text into Braille. It has precise control over the embosser’s movements and paper feeding. Users can also connect it to a computer using a USB cable and use the software called the “Mimir Slicer” to emboss the text.

The team said that the software is “simple and intuitive to use”, handling different file formats like PDF and Word.

It also has a built-in voice-to-text module for custom text input.

The Thermal Floater is a modular floating renewable energy device designed by 18-year-old NUS student Sparsh and 19-year-old Indian Institute of Technology student Shivansh Anand. It efficiently converts the sun’s heat in a cost-effective manner.

The project distinguishes itself from traditional solar and wind farms by not requiring significant land usage, thus promoting the adoption of renewable energy at a rate of $0.64 per watt.

Through the Thermal Floater, Sparsh and Shivansh aimed to address recurring blackouts and unstable electricity in their hometown that were made worse by the COVID-19 lockdowns.


The pair realised that although there are various methods of renewable energy generation, one of them provided a consistent and regular supply of electricity. PHOTO CREDIT: SPARSH AND SHIVANSH ANAND


They researched the challenges associated with renewable energy and found it costly and land-intensive, unsuitable for densely populated areas. Frustrated by the lack of affordable and  compact options, Sparsh and Shivansh took it upon themselves to develop a solution.

The device is designed to float on water and can handle waves due to its modular casing. It also allows multiple units to generate electricity using a single connector.


The Thermal Floater utilises the Seebeck Effect with a thermoelectric peltier to convert heat to electricity. PHOTO CREDIT: SHIVANSH ANAND


A 20cm by 20cm module can generate 540W of power in 10 hours of sunlight at a cost of $0.64 per watt.

Their project won the Children’s Climate Prize and was recognised as the State Winner for the Youth Ideathon in India.

Shivansh and Sparsh plan to partner with specialised mass manufacturing firms to produce prototype models and obtain essential testing equipment. They also intend to seek funding opportunities for ongoing research and development.

The duo believe that obtaining funding will facilitate the shift towards creating physical prototypes and conducting thorough tests to evaluate how it can handle real-world stresses and loads.

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