In Summary

  • This article originally featured in Swinburne's Venture magazine
To have someone of the calibre of Sir James commenting on our work was just amazing.

Surely the traditional wheelbarrow defies reinvention? Yet two Swinburne students have done just that — and made the top-20 finalists in the prestigious James Dyson Award.

The Utility Barrow, created by product design engineering students Lachlan Meadows and Hugh McKay, is designed to be used as a traditional wheelbarrow – or a boat, or even as a market stall.

It was designed to ease the effects of annual flooding suffered in many cities globally and can carry up to 300 kilograms through floodwaters.

The international competition is named after British inventor Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner. Sir James’ office sent compliments via email about the wheelbarrow design well before it had made the finals. “The initial excitement was due to the similarities between the Utility Barrow and one of Sir James Dyson’s first designs – the Ballbarrow,” Lachlan says.

“To have someone of the calibre of Sir James Dyson commenting on our work was just amazing.”

For their case study, Mr Meadows and Mr McKay tested their wheelbarrow concept in the context of a low socio-economic community along a river subject to flooding in Indonesia.

“The idea is that during a shallow-water evacuation, the barrow is guided through the water to safety, keeping family members and belongings safe and dry,” Lachlan says. “During deeper floods, it can be used as a personal watercraft.”

The design includes a heavy wheel at the front to balance the person sitting on the seat at the rear. Rings on the side of the Utility Barrow hold poles in place to turn it into a market stall.

“People from the demographic we were designing for often sell things at the local market, but can’t get the goods through the floodwaters, so we added a few guide holes to readily adapt the barrow into a shelter for the markets, using found materials.”

The Utility Barrow was created by the students as part of their work in Swinburne’s Global Design unit.

“Making the final was great kudos for the university and the course because it shows that this is absolutely what can be achieved,” unit co-ordinator Dr Charles Ranscombe says.

The international design award celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.