Graduate Profile: Oliver Blackwell, 23, inventor of the drumless washing machine

Oliver Blackwell hopes to revolutionise laundry time with his drumless washing machine. Andrea Wren meets the student who hated ironing

Creating an award-winning product is every design graduate's dream, and Oliver Blackwell has done just that with his invention - a drumless washing machine. Blackwell built the contraption for a dissertation project on his design course at the University of Plymouth. It was spotted at a student design exhibition and Blackwell was invited to exhibit it at The Ideal Homes Show, where he scooped the Concept for Living award last month . He won a £5,500 place at the Academy for Art & Design in Guilford and £2,000 cash.

Blackwell believes his "WashDryIron" could really alter the way we do our laundry. Why? Because it saves us from the job that we all hate: ironing.

Blackwell, who graduated last year, didn't realise that he was onto a potential winner when he began his course at the Exeter campus of the University of Plymouth in 2002. He picked the course because he wanted to study in Exeter as he liked the city, having already given up a degree course at a different university because he felt the teaching method was far too structured and theoretical.

However, once on the University of Plymouth course, a BA honours in product design, 23-year-old Blackwell says: "What I really liked about it was that we always had an open brief - so it meant everyone was doing many different things and there were lots of ideas flying about. For example, we'd be told, 'the project must be focused on sustainability' and that was it. This meant we had a lot of freedom and everyone would come up with very diverse designs."

In his final year he realised that he needed to think more like a designer than a businessman, as he had been looking at making money from his concepts rather than considering other aspects. "I realised I had to change my thinking in order to be successful," he says.

A change of tutor inspired him to contemplate projects that not only had the potential to be commercially viable, but that would also be aesthetically pleasing and manufactured from suitable materials. However, the idea of a washing machine that wouldn't cause creasing was one that none of his tutors predicted would be feasible within the time frame available.

Blackwell was convinced he could meet the deadline. "I wanted to produce a household appliance, as these are the ones that make money," he says. "I knew from everyday life that people hated ironing, and I worked out that it was the drum of the machine that makes the problem by causing creases in the clothes. If I could take the drum out of the equation, then I might have a solution.

"I ran some tests to discover whether you could wash clothes upright by vibration, and also if you could dry them in this position. To test this latter aspect, I made an MDF funnel that I stuck out of the sun roof of my friend's car with a wet T-shirt inside. We drove ten miles up the A30 so the wind could run down the funnel, and it was dry when we stopped."

The prototype took four months to complete from the birth of the idea, and cost Blackwell £5,000 to research and build. Because the machine needed expensive materials, he says he had no choice but to fund it on his credit card. He's thrilled to have been exhibiting at the Ideal Homes Show, and feels very lucky that he won an award. But he hasn't yet received any corporate interest for his drum-less wonder.

"This model is bigger than the real production item will be as it attracts more attention at this size," he says. "Currently it's like a walk-in wardrobe. The real thing is likely to be the size of a normal washing machine."

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + + uncapped commission + benefits: SThree: Did you ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits + uncapped commission: SThree: Did you kn...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence