YOUNG INVENTORS WIN WITH WHEELSON

Their bicycle load-carrier attachment takes first place at James Dyson Awards 2019 in Singapore

The Singapore National Winner of this year’s James Dyson Award is Wheelson – a clever and versatile bicycle attachment that makes carrying heavy loads for cyclists safe and easy. Against the backdrop of greener methods of mobility being encouraged in the country, and Singapore striving towards zero carbon emissions, the team of six inventors from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) were struck by the common, everyday relatable problem of how difficult it is to manoeuvre a bicycle while carrying a load in the front basket.

TEAM MEMBERS

Glenn Chia

Wilson Lim Wei Sheng

Wei Jie Ang

Keerthana Janmugam

Sarah Ong

Kei Sheng Leong

This international design award celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of inventors and design engineers, and runs in 27 countries and regions. The award is organised by the James Dyson Foundation, founded in 2002 to nurture future generations of engineers.

INSPIRATION

As Singapore strives towards zero carbon emissions, there have been measures that encourage the use of bicycles. This has made access to bicycles to be more convenient. As such, individuals and food companies are utilizing bicycles for longer distances and carrying more load. It is not an uncommon sight to observe individuals carrying huge packages on their backs and cycling. The heavy load shifts the center of gravity of the system, making it more difficult for users to balance and travel around curves. This is made more difficult as more users share the same pathway, further making navigating such curves even more challenging and dangerous.

HOW IT WORKS

Wheelson’s key technologies centre on 4 core deliverables – ANY BIKE, ANYTHING, ANYWHERE, ANYONE. We noticed that bicycles come in different heights, widths and frames. To address the height variation, we created a pivotable frame that allows users’ to vary Wheelson’s height. The width issue was tackled by making the width of the buckets smaller such that they mostly fit within the width of the front handlebars. We built highly adjustable clamps to accommodate different diameters of the bicycle frame. As a bonus, we added a snap and lock feature to easily attach/detach Wheelson from the bicycle frame. Anything – The current iteration of Wheelson was designed to handle a standard-sized weekly grocery shopping payload. Wheelson buckets had 36L of space and can carry 15kg. Anywhere – With a custom suspension system, Wheelson safely stows items in any terrain. Anyone – Its light and sturdy aluminium frame keeps the bicycle upright without holding you back.

DESIGN PROCESS

The team comes from SUTD and all of us live on campus. There was a nearby supermarket that we frequented via bicycle. We then realized that there was a problem of grocery transportation on bicycle. We then discovered that it was a common problem among people who use bicycles as a primary mode of transportation. We then did user studies on how users ride and the various ways they transported groceries. We explored fitting groceries in our bags, hanging it on handlebars and adding a basket at the front of the bag. This made us feel instability and discomfort. Being engineering students, we decided to address the pain points of instability, comfort on the back, fear of good dropping. We realized that the root cause of instability was the high CG of the load. We thus needed a solution that ensured the load was close to the ground. In addition, we disliked having to carry our load and hence, we needed an external device like a basket to hold it. To solve the issue of dropped goods, we wanted a container with a lid that secured to the frame we were building. We came up with a wooden prototype as a POC that worked for only one type of bicycle but was well-received by our classmates. We then reiterated and came up with a modular concept is the current prototype with additional features.

A Chat with Winning Team

Which faculty of SUTD are you from?

The team comes from different majors in SUTD. We are a mix of business analysts, computer scientists, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and computer engineers.

How long did it take to come up with the final design and product of Wheelson? How much did you win and what do you plan with the money?

The design and development process of Wheelson took over 1.5 years, comprising problem formation, user studies and two iterations. During the development stage, our school featured our project in various product demonstrations. This gave us valuable feedback, which helped us to iteratively improve Wheelson. We hope to win the international prize, as the funds would enable us to commercialise Wheelson, and make it market-ready.

We’ve been awarded S$3,400 by the James Dyson Award. Part of it has been used to modify some of Wheelson’s components. While the funds have been a great help, we equally hope that winning the James Dyson Award will help get more people to notice our invention, and to convince them that Wheelson is a solution worth investing in.

How did you come up with the name Wheelson?

We felt it apt to incorporate the word “wheel” into the invention given it has wheels, and the fact it went onto bicycles, which also has wheels. While brainstorming for names we landed on ‘Wheelson’ as one of our group mates incidentally goes by the name Wilson. We found that many people picked up on the name ‘Wheelson’ very quickly, where they would previously just refer to it as ‘bicycle trolley’. Personally, we think it has a nice ring to it, and it has stuck ever since.

You mention that improvements are in the pipeline. What are these?

We are planning to make some mechanical improvements to Wheelson. For example, we’d like to replace the caster wheels with rubber wheels to reduce the amount of noise made on rocky terrain. Rubber wheels would also reduce vibrations so that users can enjoy a smoother and more comfortable ride. We’re also in the midst of improving the suspension system by introducing stronger springs. Ideally, we would want the commercialised version to feature custom parts made with injection moulding. Finally, we’re looking at other added features like built-in backlights. This would allow the cyclist to signal their turns and further enhance their safety.

What did you learn from your team mates and from the whole creative process? How did you relax after a whole day working on your Wheelson? 

Embracing diverse sets of ideas is key in making a product that people would want to buy. We valued every teammate’s ideas, no matter how crazy and outlandish it sounded. There is no such thing as a bad idea.

While the design thinking process seemed tedious and unnecessary initially, we decided to give it our best efforts and to apply it consistently. Throughout the process, we learnt the importance of putting the users first at each stage.

Designing and developing something can be immensely tiring and frustrating, encompassing hours of fine-tuning and testing. But we endured and kept at it. The pay-off was having strangers ask us if Wheelson was on sale. This showed that we identified a problem worthy of a solution, and that we’ve come up with a solution that people would invest in.

Every inventor and designer goes through negative criticism and people who want to knock them off their perch. How do you stay focused and positive throughout your quest?

The main criticism that we faced was the size of the product. Many were concerned that the large profile which would compromise manoeuvrability. We were receptive, as we saw it as a means to improve our product. We did eventually reduce Wheelson’s form factor, such that it fit within a rectangular frame with reference to the handlebars of the bicycle.

What can Singapore and local universities do to better promote local product design and creation in the country?

Through this experience, we realised the importance of a supportive environment, where students can turn to people for support. Working on Wheelson brought meaning to the saying “No man is an island” for us. It would not have been possible without the collective efforts of each team member, be it in coming up with the name, designing the poster, or developing the hardware.

Having access to mentors who have experience in making market-ready products is also incredibly important. Our mentors were able to advise us on works and what doesn’t, and these have greatly helped us to chart the future of Wheelson. We are also able to tap into their network to get the word out, and to identify opportunities to take Wheelson to the next stage of development and commercialisation.

We’re greatly appreciative of our school’s support in these two aspects, and certainly think that all universities should explore ways to connect students with industry mentors.

What advice can you give a young student who wants to design and invent something but does not know where to start?

Don’t rush into solving a problem that you think has potential to be solved. Instead, invest time in interviewing people. Understand the problems that they face, and try to distil the root causes.

Once you find a universal problem, you’ll never have to worry about potential demand because it will be there. With that as the fundamental principle, it ensures that users are involved throughout the design phase. Their feedback is incredibly important if you are to improve your invention.

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