A washing machine that can fit in a micro-condo and uses no electricity has won a national award for its Toronto designer.

The Drumi clothes washer is about the size of a water cooler bottle, weighs less than seven kilograms, and is powered with a foot pedal. It's designed to be suitable for use in the tiny apartments in crowded urban areas and in remote areas of the developing world, without good access to electricity.

It has won a $3,600 national award from the James Dyson Foundation for its inventor, Yi Jiang, a recent graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto. He and four runners-up go on to the international competition for a chance to win a $54,000 grand prize, plus $9,000 for their university, in November. 

Yi Jiang with Drumi

Yi Jiang, who designed the Drumi, said he was inspired by his own experience using the shared laundry room in a Toronto highrise apartment. (James Dyson Foundation)

Jiang, who invented the Drumi as his industrial design thesis project, said he was inspired by his own experience living in a Toronto high-rise apartment. He found it a pain to drag his full laundry basket down many floors to the common laundry room, find a machine, find the right change, then return to pick it up 45 minutes later.

"One day, I saw someone wash some nasty shoes in the full-size washer," he recalled.

That motivated him to come up with an alternative laundry solution.

The Drumi can wash about a quarter load of laundry or two kilograms at a time — about three T-shirts, three pairs of socks, and three pairs of underwear at once, or a single pair of jeans. It can't wash towels or bedsheets, so it can't completely replace a regular washing machine.

Rather, says, Megan Savage, who handles media and communications for Yirego, it's designed to reduce the number of trips you need to make to the laundromat.

Laundry and detergent is loaded in the top, and pumping on the pedal (the way you would pump up a ball with an foot-powered air pump) with your foot turns the drum.

Not a 'huge workout'

"It's not too difficult," Savage said. "It's not like it's a huge workout or anything like that."

You need to pump for two minutes for the wash cycle, then another two minutes for the rinse.  

After graduating in 2013, Jiang launched a company called Yirego to commercialize Drumi, winning several awards along the way.

He has just returned from a trip to China to meet with potential manufacturers. (He is also working with some Canadian manufacturers). He received an email about the Dyson award after returning to his hotel at 1 or 2 a.m.

CEE light

There were four Canadian runners-up, including CEE Light, a power storage device designed by electrical engineering students at the University of Saskatchewan, with add-ons that can be used for lighting or water sterilization. (James Dyson Foundation)

"It's really exciting," said Jiang, who couldn't sleep after getting the news.

He plans to use the money to develop the product further with manufacturers to make mass production feasible.

At the moment, the Drumi is available on Yirego's website to pre-order for $169. Jiang estimates delivery will take place next summer, and plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign before then.

The Canadian runners up this year include:

  • CEE light, a power storage device designed by electrical engineering students at the University of Saskatchewan, with add-ons that can be used for lighting or water sterilization. It's based on an electronic device called a capacitor that can be recharged over 500,000 times without losing power, unlike a battery, and is designed to help replace kerosene and candles in places with limited access to electricity. It's expected to cost about $10.
  • Grasp, a keyless bicycle smart lock invented by mechatronics engineering students at the University of Waterloo. Instead of a key, it relies on biometrics, allowing you to use your fingerprint. It includes an app that lets you monitor it from your phone.
  • Screw cutter project, a device designed by biomedical engineering students at the University of British Columbia, that helps surgeons in the developing world create custom surgical screws for mending broken bones.
  • Voltera V-One, designed by mechatronics engineering students at the University of Waterloo that allows anyone — including hobbyists — to print custom circuit boards.

The James Dyson Award, run annually in 20 countries, is open to students and recent graduates in product design, industrial design or engineering who design "something that solves a problem."

It's funded by the James Dyson Foundation, a charity that supports design, technology and engineering education. The charity was started by James Dyson, a British engineer and founder of the Dyson vacuum cleaner company.