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This morning, I spoke to Yusuf Muhammed who, along with Paul Thomas, just scooped the £10,000 James Dyson Award, named after and sponsored by the vacuum cleaner innovator.
Their winning design: the Automist sprinkler system, designed for use in domestic kitchens. Cheaper and easier to install than a regular sprinkler system, Muhammed and Thomas say that Automist would simply fit onto a standard kitchen tap. If fire breaks out in the kitchen, a wireless heat detector triggers a pump under the sink to drive a fine spray of water into the room to put out the fire.
Muhammad is thrilled at the Dyson award, but also realizes there are challenges ahead if they are to commercialize the design successfully. After the jump, an edited transcript of our conversation.
Can you explain the thinking behind your idea?
One of the key things that was raised from our research and from conversations with the fire brigade was the need for an easy-to-retrofit, relatively cheap and straightforward fire suppression system. With traditional sprinklers, there's piping that goes everywhere, it's expensive, difficult to install, obtrusive and there's risk of water damage. We were trying to get rid of a number of these elements.
Where did the mist idea come from?
Water mist is actually growing in popularity [as a way to put out fire]. It uses a lot less water than a traditional sprinkler system. It’s already well established in marine and offshore applications, and they’re starting to use it a lot more in commercial kitchens, on deep fat fryers and the like. We were trying to think of a way to reconfigure a well-established technology in a domestic setting.
You mention deep fat fryers. But the idea that you shouldn't put water on a fiery chip pan seems to be ingrained in my memory. Isn't water exactly the wrong thing to put on burning oil, a likely cause of a kitchen fire?
That’s something everyone says and it's an issue we'll have to overcome as we move to commercialize our idea. But mist is different: the water particles are really small. You're not throwing water on oil. Instead, water turns to steam which gets rid of the heat, it displaces the oxygen around the fire, and that stops the combustion process of the fire itself. These days they even use water mist sprinklers to protect industrial deep fat fryers.
Who or what is the market for Automist?
Initially, I think that it's care homes, houses of multiple occupancy, maybe student occupations with a shared kitchen. Beyond that I would like to see it in anyone’s kitchen.
How big is the fire safety market?
It's difficult to gauge. One of the difficulties we’ll have to overcome is to get people to pay for preventative measures. People say it won’t happen to them. So I think the market would typically be for owners of a large stock of houses where they might expect a number of cases of fire and appreciate the system.
What was the research process for your design?
We brainstormed with the fire service, who highlighted the different interventions they’d seen in the market. In parallel, we looked at fire statistics to assess the most likely causes of the fire and which particular groups were most susceptible.
How much will Automist cost?
We’re still to-ing and fro-ing on this point. But right now it's in the ballpark of £400-500.
So what are your next steps?
Since graduating [from the Royal College of Art in London], Paul and I have teamed up with some graduate MBAs through the Design London program, and started our own business, Plumis. Now we're finalizing our business plan and we'll send it out to a few people. We’ll see.
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.