Two teams made it to the on-stage finale of Healthcare Design‘s Breaking Through conceptual design competition, presenting their innovative solutions to the future challenges of healthcare live during a general session at the 2018 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Phoenix. After the presentations, attendees voted for their favorite and the winner took home $10,000. Here’s a look at that winning concept from HDR.

Project: MASH (mobile acute services hospital)
Firm: HDR
Presented on stage by: Romina Triboli Pisi, design leader; Margot Cougal, architectural coordinator; Mira Ebaf, architectural coordinator; and Ben Belson, architectural coordinator
Challenge identified: The HDR team recognized that advances in technology and preventive care will vastly reduce the number of physical healthcare facilities required in the future, but a need that will persist is the necessity for care to be delivered to the sites of man-made conflicts or natural disasters. Citing the rapid and efficient deployment of healthcare professionals, equipment, and supplies to disaster zones as essential to survival and recovery, the team decided to explore where there’s room for improvement. For example, while organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders do this already, their solutions are often temporary tent facilities that must be transported and assembled, a process that wastes valuable time. In a world where the incidence of catastrophes including terrorist attacks, wars, and climate change-induced natural disasters is ever increasing, the healthcare challenge is how to respond more quickly and effectively.

The concept
MASH is an independent pod-based system of drones that can be assembled anywhere without relying on existing infrastructure or a site. The system can hover above disaster zones, below the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft and at a safe distance from potential danger. The “facility” would be assembled from a series of modular clinical and support pods that can be linked together to create an elevated station. When not in use, they would be stored at bases strategically located around the globe. Designed to be stackable like shipping containers, the appropriate mix of pods could be immediately distributed to a disaster site, where separate propeller units will magnetically engage the stacked pods and lift them. Once in the air, GPS would guide them to the destination, controlled remotely from command centers. While limited patient accommodations would be provided, the intention is for the pods to be used to stabilize and treat patients prior to a transfer to medical center or other safe location.

Design features
There are several pod typologies that vary from advanced clinical procedural spaces to imaging and diagnostics to service and support. There are four main categories: basic care, services, emergency, and staff. Within those, offerings might include general treatment areas, a pharmacy, cafeteria, operating room, emergency services, or staff areas. MASH is scalable, too, able to be adapted to varying conditions and evolve as required by interlocking or uncoupling pods. Taxi triage pods will serve as first responders and retrieve survivors from the ground, transporting them up to the MASH. Finally, clinical pods would be assisted by support pods, providing independent and replaceable infrastructure to maintain uninterrupted functioning. For example, the support pods would connect to the clinical pods from below, providing water and power.

Additional elements

  • Two propellers that stabilize motion, with one spinning clockwise and the other counterclockwise. They’re slightly angled to improve airflow and foldable to be stored in the pod.
  • A magnet located at the top of the pod for propeller attachment.
  • Gates, or doors, on each unit with a magnetic frame to allow precise connection to other pods.
  • Unit numbers on the exterior used for identification, with colors distinguishing each pod type.
  • A connection point on the base of each clinical pod, where support pods join.
  • Solar cells for power and LED lights to help locate victims.
  • A 3-D graphene exterior skin that’s both strong and lightweight.
  • An aerodynamic form that eases movement while flying.