Today, the first up-close look at one of our 2010 DiabetesMine Design Challenge winners. Mauro Amoruso was honored with one of three Grand Prizes for his concept called Zero. It’s a combination insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor in a futuristic bracelet format:
Mauro is a 26-year-old freelance professional designer living in Turin, Italy. I spoke to him on the phone yesterday from across the world, with him repeatedly apologizing for his English. No worries – he spoke well enough for me to understand what a passionate and talented guy he is! Below is our conversation, with Mauro’s English polished off by me
DBMine) Mauro, can you tell us first about your work as an independent designer?
MA) I studied design at the I.E.D. (Instituto Europeo di Design). Then I started working in the Pininfarina design studio, the company that makes Ferrari cars, from 2006 through 2008. Since then I’ve been a freelancer in Turin, working on projects for the environment, for landscape, and for medical devices.
So you started out designing sports cars?
I was working for Pininfarina as a product designer, designing medical devices, yacht interiors etc., doing interactive design and web design. But I didn’t like the ethical problem in big companies — because they make all these profits. Being at this kind of company for three years is enough. I am very disgusted. I want to help make things better in society.
For example, I think how Arnold Schwarzenegger is working to forbid the toys in McDonalds’ meals (to ban promotion of high-calorie meals to children). I think that’s a great example to follow.
How did you find out about the DiabetesMine Design Challenge, and what motivated you to start creating an entry?
I was looking for competitions with the most important human factors. I searched Google for “competition” and “human impact.” I found your website, and then I studied the situation. I looked up OmniPod and other devices.
After this I realized the problem was having two different devices: the pump and CGM separately. This is most complicated to use and has very complex interaction. There were different solutions to resolve diabetes problems. But which were the priorities? It seems people want one device that records data and that reuses the mobile phone screen and its technologies, with data storing and calculations inside. It’s better to use existing technology, instead of creating new, complicated ones.
My concept was: how can we have more with less? More functions, more service, with less device, and less cost?
How did you research the specific needs of PWDs (people with diabetes)?
I interviewed some patients, but in Italy it’s very different. The level of disclosure is not very high. People are not really confident to say they have diabetes. It’s like something secret.
But the people I did talk to asked me to merge the technologies, and also improve the problem of carrying and administering insulin — on the job and in the park, etc. I think most important is the dimension of the insulin reservoir. It needs to be big enough to last for a whole week.
Can you explain the process of creating Zero?
My process for all types of designs is the same. I interview the people and look for information first. The most important part for me was DiabetesMine.com because I could read all about people’s needs and all the comments. This made a study for me in one week! I also looked at YouTube — the customer interviews about other devices, because people state the problems.
This part of the process was very different even two years ago, but now with websites and forums and YouTube, it’s very easy to define the problem you are addressing.
Also, my mother is a nurse and I could interview people about diabetes in the hospital. I realized the first problem for PWDs was a lot of wasted cost on supplies and disposables, and this also creates a lot of medical waste.
The second problem was the too-big dimensions of the devices. OK, we have a new generation in OmniPod and CGMs, but they are expensive.
I identified the needed dimension of the reservoir, and also the cost point.
So what would the Zero cost?
$200 upfront cost to purchase the device. It also uses less pieces, has less packaging costs, you can use the sensor chip longer, and there’s no battery replacement.
Wow! Why did you call your product ‘Zero’ by the way?
Because it is an O-shape. And also because of the idea of minimalistic design. In one sentence: ‘Zero-frills, Zero problems.’
So how exactly would you keep the price so low?
Unify and standardize to bring costs down. One thing I thought about is creating one ‘universal cannula’ for all the products. People shouldn’t need different strips, different cannulas, with huge manufacturing costs behind them.
Also, you don’t change the bracelet every day, but just once a week. My idea was how can I create some device for PWDs that works as well as glasses for the eyes? If you think back, the first generation of glasses was huge and complicated, unuseful, but now they are very fashionable — not just a health device but an accessory. I think insulin devices can also be accessories in the future. Why not?
I was aiming for huge function inside a very small device.
It’s a great vision, but you know that a system like the Zero is not feasible at this point in time, right?
Also, this is the concept I’ve created with the technologies we use now. In a few years, we can realize the concept with even better new technologies. For example, I think in the near future we won’t need a second cannula for the CGM; I think they’ll be able to combine those (insulin delivery and glucose monitoring).
What about the upper arm as the main insertion spot? Wouldn’t lack of fatty tissue or scar tissue be a hindrance?
I’ve seen the problem of the arms with people with diabetes, and with the the skin. Sometimes when the device is moved, they find they have allergies or irritation. My idea was a circle shape; I can turn my bracelet around the arm to hit different points — even if you just move it one or two millimeters every week.
Remind us, where is the insulin housed?
Inside the reservoir — it’s a circle, and if you calculate the average dimensions of people’s arms, it works. Actually there would be two different different dimensions, for children and adults, with the children’s model holding less insulin.
Medingo for example is small because it holds a max of 20 mL (milliliters) of insulin, and that’s about half of the OmniPod’s capacity. I use much more insulin with respect to OmniPod, but housed in a very different shape — it’s important to rethink the use of the space.
Also the light inside my device uses the same glass from the reservoir to project the light. The infusion set, glucose monitor, electronic delivery, spring jet, etc. are all integrated.
What about power? This kind of device needs a battery, no?
Yes, my idea was to import watch technology, where they use a little dynamo inside. When you turn the watch, it will charge automatically. This is the reason I prefer the arm, because it’s a part of the body always in movement, you can recharge all the time.
Is there a separate controller for the Zero, or do you just push buttons right on the device?
There’s intelligence inside the bracelet and the control is in the mobile phone. Most important is using the potential of the chip inside the mobile phone. It’s very expensive when you use a new chip, or place new technology inside the device; it’s the wrong way to approach the problem. Rather, I want to use existing technology and save the cost.
So what are your future plans? Will you work to realize the Zero concept?
My wish is if I can come to the US to work on the Zero and other projects. I only work on products I believe in, and I believe in the Zero. I think I can realize the model. Ideally I would like to work with IDEO, of course. For me that company is very ‘wow!’
And this contest has been a motivator for you?
I’m very proud of this. Winning is very important to me. I’m very moved.
I believe in this kind of competition — I think this is the future, also for companies to get ideas and to find inspired people.
Thank you Mauro, and congratulations again. You are inspirational (and I’ve sent your CV to my contacts at IDEO)
Best of luck!