Back to the drawing board: Previous winners of the James Dyson Award

Deconstructed design: The 2016 James Dyson Award international winner was EcoHelmet, a folding, recyclable bike helmet | Photography Dyson

The James Dyson Award has been celebrating design engineering since 2004. Bringing together people from 23 countries, the contest is an opportunity for university students and recent graduates to compete on an international stage, showing off their innovative ideas and prototypes for the chance to win £30,000.


Great inventions are simple, practical, yet provide a solution to a real world problem. The James Dyson Award attempts to encourage people with ideas that challenge convention, which utilize a lean less-is-more engineering approach, and design with the environment in mind.

This year the award was won by four Canadian students and their low-cost melanoma detection device, the sKan. Other winners have included an inflatable incubator for newborns, an ecologically friendly recyclable helmet, and even a 3D-printer that can can rapidly turn design files into prototype circuit boards in minutes.

Here are some of the previous winners…

2016 Winner: EcoHelmet

Isis Shiffer and James Dyson in New York wearing matching EcoHelmets | Photography Dyson

EcoHelmet is a foldable, recyclable bike helmet and the 2016 international winner of the James Dyson Award.

Around the world, bike share schemes have caught the public imagination and are today used by millions of people. However, according to the Department for Transport, there were 3,237 serious cyclist injuries on the roads in 2015. Even thought studies suggest that wearing a helmet can reduce risk of serious head injuries by almost 70%, cyclists using sharing schemes are still reluctant to use helmets.

Isis Shiffer, a recent graduate from the Pratt Institute of Design in New York City, set out to make cycling safer using a unique honeycomb configuration to protect the head from impact, which also folds flat when not in use. Moreover, the simplicity of EcoHelmet’s construction means that Shiffer is planning to sell each unit at bike share stations for just $5 per helmet.

Designer Isis Shiffer says: ‘I was lucky enough to be studying at Royal College of Art and the Imperial College of London for a semester, and was granted access to Imperial’s crash lab. They had a European standard helmet crash setup that allowed me to gather enough data on Ecohelmet’s proprietary honeycomb configuration to know it was viable and worth developing.’
James Dyson says: ‘EcoHelmet solves an obvious problem in an incredibly elegant way. But its simplicity belies an impressive amount of research and development. I look forward to seeing EcoHelmets used in bike shares across the world.’
Isis Shiffer working on her EcoHelmet prototype in New York

2015 Winner: Voltera V One

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are everywhere, from smartphones to biomedical devices. But all too often circuit board designs have to be sent overseas for to be printed in a factory — only for the whole process to be repeated as soon as a minor change is required.

Four engineering students from the University of Waterloo, Canada, set out to tackle this problem. Their solution: Voltera V One, is a laptop-sized PCB printer that can turn design files into prototype circuit boards in minutes using the same rapid prototyping principles that underpin 3D printing.

Jesús Zozaya, co-founder, says: “We’re at a critical point with Voltera. Our parts are being manufactured in China and we are doing further testing at our office and our assembly line in Canada. The £30,000 we’ve been awarded as winners of the James Dyson Award will help us to ramp up production.”
James Dyson says: ‘The Voltera V One team is made up of four impressive young graduates. Their solution makes prototyping electronics easier and more accessible — particularly to students and small businesses. But it also has the potential to inspire many more budding engineers. Something I am very passionate about indeed.’
2017 winners the sKan created a low-cost melanoma detecting device

2014 Winner: MOM

Meet your new MOM, designer James Roberts shaking hands with James Dyson | Photograph Dyson

A modern incubation system for newborns costs approximately £30,000. On the other hand, the winner of the 2014 James Dyson Award, MOM, costs just £250 to manufacture, test and transport to the desired location.

The design engineer behind MOM is James Roberts, 23, a recent graduate from Loughborough University. Winning the James Dyson Award will inject £30,000 into further prototyping and testing, with a view to further cost reductions and ultimately seeing MOM mass produced.

The device can be collapsed for transportation and runs off a battery which lasts 24 hours, in case of power outages. It is blown up manually and is heated using ceramic heating elements. MOM complies with British incubation standards, delivering a stable heat environment, humidification and jaundice lighting.

James Dyson said: ‘James’ invention shows the impact design engineering can have on people’s lives. The western world takes incubators for granted — we don’t think about how their inefficient design makes them unusable in developing countries and disaster zones. By bravely challenging convention, James has created something that could save thousands of lives.’
Dr Steve Jones, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal United Hospital, Bath said: ‘MOM is a really interesting piece of innovation — I particularly like the integration of phototherapy, as jaundice is a very common co-morbidity alongside prematurity. Its use needn’t be limited to developing world scenarios. I could see it being used in the UK to support community midwifery units, or following home births.’
Designer James Roberts describing his incubator called MOM

2011 Winner: AirDrop

The 2011 winner of the International James Dyson Award is Airdrop; a low cost, self powered, and easy to install solution to the problems of growing crops in drought affected regions.

Edward Linacre from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne decided to take action after the worst drought in a century affected his local Murray Darling region of Australia. He decided to explore ways of capturing evaporating moisture and putting it back into the soil where it was needed. Edward developed his prototypes while performing research within local farming communities.

James Dyson said: ‘Airdrop shows that designers and engineers don’t have to reinvent the wheel, simple principles, in this case the condensation of water, can be applied to good effect through skilled design and robust engineering.’
Edward said: ‘Winning the award means I can develop and test the Airdrop system. It has the potential to help farmers around the world and I’m up for the challenge of rolling it out.’

Click here to read more about the James Dyson Award and this year’s winner, the sKan, a low-cost melanoma detection device.