CADC faculty and students create AU Med-Pak

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Over the course of several trips to Haiti, Dr. Scott Kramer, Atlanta Auburn BSCI Alumni Endowed Professor in Auburn’s McWhorter School of Building Science, repeatedly encountered a challenging problem. Local medical missionaries shared their frustrations in trying to reach underserved communities in mountainous, rural and other inaccessible areas while carrying the supplies they needed to diagnose and treat the people there. Together, Kramer and his colleague Randy Bartlett, Bauhaus Endowed Professor of industrial design in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD), developed an idea: The AU Diagnostic Medical Lab-in-a-Backpack, or AU Med-Pak for short.

The objective of this specialized backpack is to hold supplies a medical professional might need to diagnose or treat the inhabitants of remote areas for anything from minor ailments to serious life-threatening illnesses. The backpack they envisioned would also need to be flexible enough to equip for specific needs and circumstances and light enough to carry long distances. Kramer and Bartlett initiated the project by dividing the students in Bartlett’s third-year industrial design studio into four groups with whom they worked closely to design, develop and fabricate working prototypes for the AU Med-Pak.

After completion of this studio-based process, Kramer and Bartlett, accompanied by SIGD’s prototype fabrication facility manager David Gowan, took four prototypes to Haiti to test and receive feedback from medical professionals in the field. The best features of each design were identified and then incorporated into a more refined version of the backpack.

“We developed the AU Med-Pak from an industrial design viewpoint,” Bartlett said, “keeping the end user in mind. The students’ designs were heavily based on human factors, on what the medical missionaries need and want in a medical backpack.”

The College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) presented the project during the February 2020 Auburn Tiger Giving Day, raising the funding needed to create 12 backpacks for the purposes of further field testing. Before the impact of the COVID-19 virus took effect, Kramer was able to distribute five of the resulting prototypes to professionals in Kenya, Uganda, Jamaica and Bolivia who have been testing the usefulness and durability of the product, which currently holds a United States provisional patent.

As the pandemic changes the landscape of health care across the globe, Kramer and Bartlett are considering the development of a version of the AU Med-Pak specifically for use in underserved rural areas of the United States. They are also investigating ways to outfit the backpack with COVID-19 testing capabilities.

“The backpack is designed with modular components,” Bartlett said. “The internal components can be customized for work with different locations and diseases.”

Based on the success of his partnership with Bartlett and the strength of the students’ design work, Kramer says this is just the beginning for the AU Med-Pak. “We will analyze data from users, clean up the ergonomics and go on to the next iteration.”