Joanna Power and Paramveer Bhachu are “feeling amazing” after being selected from thousands of global entrants as the winners of Red Bull Basement 2020. The duo's success is down to their innovative water-saving device, the Lava Aqua X portable electric washing machine.
Discover the story of their winning idea below...
Joanna (lead designer) and Paramveer (graphic design and marketing) are both from Walsall near Birmingham, but didn't meet until they both started a Product Design Engineering degree at Brunel University in London in 2017.
For Joanna, her interest in product design began "when I went into sixth form and heard more about Dyson and the idea of making beautiful things, but also making them really innovative and doing lots of work mathematically on them and really engineering them – it just went from there.”
For Paramveer it was all about an inspiring DT teacher. "He was heavily invested in trying to teach us extra knowledge," he says. "And would bring in products and talk about them and how they’d been designed, and that was pretty inspiring. I enjoyed my DT lessons and I remember thinking, 'I want to do exactly this with my life.' Do what you love!”
"Do what you love!"
The idea first emerged at the beginning of lockdown, in March 2020, when Joanna saw a brief on the website for design company Hubbub for ideas around the amount of water that students waste. "And as a student myself I was like, ‘We can do better than this guys!’," she says. "I noticed that a lot of students would make excuses because they were thinking ‘okay we don’t pay the water bills, it doesn’t really matter to me’. So I was thinking: how do we add that value back to them?
"And that’s when I was thinking back to the fact that in my first year I was mostly washing my clothes in the sink. So I did a little mock up of a portable washing machine, and it looked really boxy and gross. And I was like, ‘Okay who’s the best person I know for marketing and pretty graphics?' And that was Pav. So I called him up and convinced him to be involved, and we developed."
They key problem they identified was that for the majority of students, doing washing is a pain: time-consuming (no machines available), logistically tricky (carrying washing up and down corridors), expensive (£100-ish a year in on-campus launderettes). It also uses a lot of water. In fact, they worked out that students spend nearly an hour and a half a week in the shower, using 15,000 litres of water a year.
So, they invented a product (the Lava Aqua X) that makes doing the laundry easier (12-minute cycles, in your bedroom), cheaper (a one-off cost of £65), and more environmentally friendly (it recycles water).
"A key thing with product design," says Paramveer. "Is you can have a brilliant idea that solves a problem, saving energy or saving water, but if it costs more than an ordinary solution then no-one’s going to buy it. We’ve created a product that not only does good to the world, but is a cheaper and better alternative for a student to use."
How the Lava Aqua X works
All you have to do is: remove the water tank from the side of the machine, stand on it in the shower so it fills up with water, reattach it to the machine.
Then you're ready to go.
It will then wash 2.5kg of your clothes in 12 minutes. It's that quick because Joanna and Paramveer have been able to use a more-efficient spherical drum – instead of an industry-standard cylindrical one – because the machine is only doing small loads.
Ideally you change the water every wash or every other wash to maximise efficiency but, says Joanna, "the box is made from PVC so stagnant water doesn’t have a chemical reaction on it".
The carbon filter in the machine lasts for 25 washes.
Why is it so small though?
Allow Paramveer to explain: "It’s targeted at students who don’t have a lot of room so we’ve made sure it’s small. Even if in the future we do make a bigger one that won’t phase out the smaller one because the smaller one still serves its purpose for students. It still gets that job done."
Entering the Red Bull Basement UK competition
The idea to enter the Red Bull Basement UK competition came from the Brunel University Entrepreneurs Society, which Joanna and Paramveer are part of.
"It encourages other students to enter things," says Joanna. "There was another group from our uni who also made the top 16, so it’s a really great little society that really helps you get your ideas out there. We were surprised we won! When they initially said they wanted to speak to us we were like, 'Oh god, maybe we’ve got to sell it more, what do they want?'."
Paramveer: "We were ready with more images and everything!”
Red Bull Basement overall victory, and beyond!
Ultimately, all Joanna and Paramveer want to do in the short term is get the Lava Aqua X on the market. "We’re dreaming of some money to be able to put into it," says Joanna. "At the moment we’re very much at the stage where we need the funds to put together the prototype, then finish the design for manufacture and get the batch made. Success would be getting our hands on the funds to do that."
She adds: "We’ve made a lot of cardboard prototypes and we’ve done a lot of computer aided engineering, but it's now a case of getting it made and putting it in front of people and being like, 'See! See! See! It works!"
The long term goal, says Paramveer, "would definitely be being able to say how much water we've saved.”
Joanna and Paramveer's top tips for budding designers
Paramveer: “What we do is follow something called the double diamond, which is a way to develop a product before you then pitch it as a final thing. So if you’ve got an idea for a concept you want to go out and define your idea, and then come back in and understand what you want to do and how you want to do it. In our day and age we’re much more likely to make a CAD render for example, or something digital, but I would previously have suggested going to workshops and banging out some models. Visualising is key."
Joanna: “I also think designers are often quite, 'This is my idea, this is my thing', but actually working together and finding people who are good at what you’re not good at is a good way to start. If you’ve got a good idea that’s only limited by your knowledge, why not throw in a second person who can help you develop it.”
A stat that'll blow your mind
If every student in London, around 249,000 of them, used the the Lava Aqua X for washing laundry, we would save 1.7 billion litres of water, the equivalent of 700 olympic-sized swimming pools.
If every student in the UK used it, the world would be a much, much happier place.