The idea for Wheelson arose when a group of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) engineering students living on campus noticed a problem. They saw their peers stuggling to balance and maneuver their bicycles that were loaded with groceries on their way back from the nearby supermarket. Realising that the root cause of the instability was the high centre of gravity of the load, being either on the handlebars or in the front basket, they decided to come up with a solution that ensured the load was close to the ground.
The team thus designed a lidded container with caster wheels, which is spacious enough to carry items, has a low centre of gravity so that the cyclist can ride with stability and maneuver with confidence. On top of that, Wheelson has the cool feature of being detachable, so that it doubles as a shopping cart, and can be snapped easily onto the bike for transport after shopping.
The innovative team, comprising Glenn Chia, Wilson Lim Wei Sheng, Leong Kei Sheng, Keerthana Janmugan, Ang Wei Jie and Sarah Ong, were named the National Winner of the 2019 James Dyson Award. Awarded $3,400 in prize money in September, Wheelson is now in the running for the title of the International Winner that will be announced later in the year.
We speak to Wilson Lim from the sextet about how Wheelson was conceptualised, its design challenges and plans for Wheelson in the future.
WHAT WAS THE INITIAL IDEA AND HOW DID IT EVOLVE TO BECOME THE FINAL DESIGN?
We knew from the start that the solution had to satisfy two main criteria, which were, to provide stability to the cyclist when riding with a load, and the modular nature of the product for ease of installation. The most elegant solution we came up with was to attach a pair of training wheels that could support heavy baskets. Our initial iterations were inadequate and could barely provide any support to the bicycle itself, let alone have the user sit on it. At each checkpoint, we would go back to our fundamental considerations, re-analyze the bicycle frame, consolidate our user studies and document our learning points.
The current iteration of Wheelson that we have today truly provides stability to its users and offers modularity. We achieved this through engineering it with an adjustable height feature, and a clamping system that allows the user to fit Wheelson onto any bike eff ortlessly.
HOW LONG DID THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS OF WHEELSON TAKE?
The design and development process of Wheelson took over 18 months, comprising problem formation, user studies and two iterations.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU ENCOUNTERED?
One of the biggest challenges was conceiving the solution. Wheelson is the only product of its kind in the world as no one else has done a similar design. Other designs either use a rear or front basket or a trailer. Thus, it was challenging to think of a solution that could perform better than the products that have been out in the market for many years. Eventually, we overcame them by conducting user interviews on the pain points on using these other products. This led us to think of reducing Wheelson’s form factor and positioning closer to the bicycle frame with a lower centre of gravity. These fundamental principles, which we’ve kept faithful to, are what led to the final design of Wheelson as we see it today.
WHAT ARE THE DIMENSIONS OF WHEELSON, AND WHAT MATERIALS ARE USED TO MAKE IT?
Wheelson is 61cm wide, and the height of the baskets is 35cm. The main frame is made up of aluminium extrusions. The customised suspension system comprises steel springs and steel plates. The basket itself is made up of polycarbonate and plastic.
WHAT DO YOU INTEND TO DO WITH THE PRIZE MONEY?
We have used part of the $3,400 prize money 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.
ARE THERE SERIOUS PLANS TO TAKE WHEELSON TO THE COMMERCIAL MARKET
Yes. For now, we are looking to get Wheelson patented and to make some further iterative improvements to the design. Following that, we intend to tap into Dyson’s network of qualified engineers to advise us on how to make Wheelson market-ready. We are also thinking of kicking off conversations with manufacturers, just to get a sense of the requirements and the considerations.
Ideally, we’d like Singapore to be the testbed for Wheelson. Once we’ve found a way to make it work, we’d love to take it to the wider Southeast Asian region.
Visit www.jamesdyson.org for more information.
Good to know
The winning design in 2018 was an urban wind turbine, which generates electricity through wind power. It was conceived by two inventors from Chile and kenya.
“WHEELSON IS THE ONLY PRODUCT OF ITS KIND IN THE WORLD AS NO ONE ELSE HAS DONE A SIMILAR DESIGN.”
text ISABELLE TOW photos DYSON