Asthma inhaler for children wins top 2021 Dyson Award prize in New Zealand

The device is easier to use and less intimidating, says its designer.
The device is easier to use and less intimidating, says its designer. Photo credit: Supplied

An asthma inhaler designed especially for children has claimed its inventor the $3900 top prize as New Zealand's national James Dyson Award winner.

The Hae Hae was designed by Maisie Panoho, a 24-year-old student at Massey University in Wellington, and will now go into the international finals where it could win its creator $59,000, with an additional $9900 for their university.

"It's an absolute privilege and honour to have received this award. It's surreal," Panoho told Newshub. "I'm very grateful for everything."

She was inspired to design of the inhaler after years of seeing family and friends struggle with asthma. After researching the impact of the disease on children, her focus moved to invent an inhaler that is easier for younger people to use.

In Aotearoa, asthma and respiratory disease is the third leading cause of death and there are nearly 7500 hospitalisations a year because of it.

Just under half of those hospitalisations are children, causing over half a million missed school days. And one in seven children in New Zealand take asthma medication, Panoho told Newshub. 

But for kids, it's not always easy to take asthma medication, she said.

The Hae Hae asthma inhaler
Photo credit: Supplied

"Children find it hard to trigger. They find it a little bit intimidating to take their medicine. I thought that if I can accommodate small hands and make it easy for them to trigger and have that confidence to take their medicine, I thought that would be great."

If the inhaler is triggered wrong, patients don't receive the full amount or benefits from their medicine, so the Hae Hae's rounded form makes it less intimidating to look at as well as easier to hold.

As well as being easier to use, the device will also include information on battery life, how much medicine is left in the canister "as well as providing helpful information like when and how long to shake the inhaler, when to inhale and a reward system for taking one's medicine."

The ideal situation would be that children accept it into their daily routine and feel confident using it, much like brushing their teeth twice a day, Panoho said.

The Hae Hae asthma inhaler
Photo credit: Supplied

While the prize money on offer as the international winner would help a lot, it's not the most important thing, she told Newshub - rather it's the exposure that could drive change.

"I'm crossing my fingers and toes that it's something that can get picked up by engineers, potential partners can see a great way to push it that little bit further, and it can be turned into like a working prototype that can then be manufactured," she told Newshub.

"I would love to see everyone has it. This is a product that isn't just for one person, I want it to be accessible to everyone. It's a worldwide thing. That's the big dream."

The Hae Hae asthma inhaler
Photo credit: Supplied

Two projects were named as New Zealand runners up.

The Utilize Series from Matthew O'Hagan and Courtney Naismith uses recycled filaments to 3D print useful designs including chandeliers made from polystyrene coffee stirrers and furniture made from plastic fishing gear collected from the waterways.

Trax from Zene Krige is an autonomous herbicide vehicle designed to roam the fields throughout the day detecting and targeting weeds with herbicide spray, minimising the amount of herbicide used.

The James Dyson Award is an international design contest that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers, open to current and recent students.