Suit Up! —Sitting Down with Noyal Babu
The bio-suit project that won the Manipal COVID Challenge under the Personal Protective Devices category revolved around the idea of the collective well-being of people during the pandemic. It did so by ensuring that sustainable goals were given as much importance as they were before. The bio hazmat suit was designed by a team of four students led by Noyal Babu, a second-year student who is pursuing his Master’s Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology from MCHP, along with two seasoned mentors. The product overcame several challenges found in traditional PPEs and was designed to be a lightweight bio-suit with good battery backup, which could create an effective barrier between the virus and the body. The MIT Post had a chance to converse with the team lead of the project Hybrid BioHazmat Suit and get to know more about his experience.
Can you describe the bio hazmat suit briefly?
The product is an amalgamation of three sub-products which were designed in the light of the challenges that we face in the current scenario. The first is the bio-suit/gown centered around the concept of a biodegradable polymer. Prioritising environmental concern, we built a bio-suit that would leave no carbon footprint and get decomposed by ecological variables over time. The second is the respirator, which is a purifier placed inside the suit, set conveniently for the user. It purifies the air that enters and removes the products building up inside, like a two-way channel. The tubes forming the respirator are narrow and lightweight, making the installation inside the suit comfortable. The respirator also has a rechargeable battery system with good battery backup. The UV-C chamber for sterilisation of the gown forms the third sub-product enabling product reusability.
How did you come up with the idea? What was the inspiration behind the bio-suit?
Accumulation of plastic waste is a significant issue in modern times. I had been thinking of doing something about it for quite some time, like developing any technology in my capacity to tackle the case upfront. Governments worldwide had made significant efforts to efficiently manage this issue before the global pandemic brought everything to a standstill. This global upsurge made me realise that it was time to step up and do something relevant by listening to my instinct and working towards eradicating this situation which put plastic waste management in jeopardy. The Manipal COVID Challenge proved to be the platform needed to showcase how effective planning leads to the success of a collective contribution.
How is this bio-suit viable for the common public?
People these days work in PPE kits. The conventional ones, apart from leaving a large carbon footprint, also lead to adverse effects on the user’s physical constitution. Healthcare workers have to keep their bodies soaked in sweat while working for hours on end. It takes a toll on their overall health and well-being. Our hybrid-suit provides the solution through a respirator inside the suit, efficiently managing a two-way air channel with no direct contact with the environment. The product’s cost will be minimal, and it is reusable via the steriliser that comes along with the suit. One of the significant achievements is its reusability and the fact that the frontline workers, like those at airports, stations, or marketplaces, do not work in an environment where a protective kit needs replacement after every use. So in light of this fact, that we came up with a UV-C chamber in which the product can be sterilised and reused.
What was the individual contribution of the team members?
We collaborated over MS Teams. We conducted regular meetings via video call, with the model being looked upon and talked about by the members. Everyone made suggestions to improve the product, and the prototype was updated continuously. Suraj PN (4th Year, ECE, MIT) dealt with the technical part—the manufacturing of the respirator and the UV-C chamber—and gave the basic concepts regarding the electrical aspect. He suggested the usage of a regulator to control airflow which is quintessential for battery backup optimisation. That was one of the highlights of our project. Varun Suresh (MBBS, KMC) provided crucial information regarding the clinical implementation of the equipment. He provided essential data and put forth a road-map of all the issues out there that the frontline workers face alongside a survey of the existing PPE kits’ problems.
I worked together with Ajil Saji (3rd Year, B.Sc., Nuclear Medicine, MCHP) and discussed the implementation of the idea. I compiled all the data and information and developed the prototype in my room, considering the team’s necessary inputs throughout. One concrete pillar of support was the experience of our mentors, Dr. Shivanand Bhushan and Ms. Sibi Oommen from the Department of Nuclear Medicine, MCHP. They provided us with vital inputs along the way, without which our venture would not have been possible. They guided us and always kept the ongoing work in check. It was the team’s aspiration that kept us going even during the challenging phases.
What challenges did you face during the whole competition?
Initially, there was a significant issue with logistics. With most shops closed during this time, there was a considerable amount of pressure while building the prototype of the product. The collection of raw materials was challenging, as venturing outdoors during the countrywide lockdown was constrained. Raw materials were available in limited quantities, and I had to work with the resources at hand while making the hybrid suit. My team members were just virtually connected. There were no physical meetings as everyone lives in different parts of the country, which led to virtual demonstrations and an increment in development time. But as a team, all of us significantly contributed to the project and built a product which has the potential to eradicate the prime issues existing today. The collective effort and inputs from everyone was the key to our project’s success in the Manipal COVID Challenge.
Did the college sponsor your project? What comes next in terms of opportunities?
In the competition’s ideation phase, we had to pitch in our idea with a presentation. The best ones got selected for the prototype phase and received a fund of Rs. 10,000 for developing the said prototype. As of now, we are inexperienced commercially and are trying to get our idea patented. We have set out to collaborate with companies that are interested in starting production with our technology. If we successfully forge a partnership, it will be a boon for those dependent on plastic PPE kits. The current market has vast potential for this bio-suit once large-scale production starts. It will have an immediate impact on the market due to the high consumption of PPEs amidst this global outbreak. In the long run, this bio-suit will prove to be a game-changer. There is an endless demand for protective kits in the healthcare sector, where people work in detrimental environments and need this product.
Featured Image Credits: Noyal Babu