Interview with Nicolas Orellana, co-winner of the UK James Dyson Award


Lancaster University students Nicolas Orellana and Yaseen Noorani have been awarded the UK James Dyson Award thanks to their “O-Wind turbine”. SCAN managed to speak with Mr Orellana to ask more about the project, how it originated and plans for the future.

Could you explain in simple words what the project precisely is about?

We managed to create a device capable of facing winds and spinning from any direction using a single axis. This allows us to use said movement and turn it into electrical energy. One of the peculiarities of our turbine is that it does not just use horizontal winds, it is able to use wind coming in from any direction – i.e. vertically, horizontally, diagonally, etc. Additionally, our device does not need to be steered in any way thanks to its O-shape.

What would the major improvement that your turbine experiences be when compared to the ones that already exist?

ItsOmnia direction of capacity, which means the ability to absorb wind from all direction independently. There currently are two main types of turbines: the horizontal and the vertical wind turbines. Both of them can produce energy when the wind comes from a certain direction. Should the direction change, then the turbine would need to be steered and everything would start over again.

When did you start being interested in engineering design?

I guess it started at a very early age. As a child, I used to break apart all toys, old TVs and radios with the aim to fix them. From there, I really liked the idea of becoming an inventor one day.

How did you get to where you are now professionally?

Well, it hasn’t happened through the common way. I didn’t become an engineer – like my father wanted me to – I did industrial design, instead. This is because I saw design engineers doing stuff with their own hands and making them work out of, almost nothing, it captivated me. I have never been after the static aspect of design but more interested in the ability to create things that can work. Beside this, every project I have worked on throughout my life involved engineering too.

When did you start working on the O-Wind project and where did you get your inspiration?

In 2004, Nasa was developing devices to explore Mars based on wind. One of these devices was a sort of beach-ball that had to roll around thanks to the wind. However, the problem with that was steering it properly and avoiding obstacles.

So I then tried to develop a device that would explore desert zones in straight lines by taking advantage of crosswinds – I did this for my final project in my undergraduate studies. Successfully, the prototype managed to go in a straight line for 7kms, and it made me think that this method could have been useful in the future to create electricity.

What kept you motivated when working on this project?

It was the contest, actually. The aim for the participants of the Dyson Award competition is creating something that solves a problem. I knew I had that and wanted to do something with it. I also thought that participating would be a chance to put out there my ideas and “making it real”. Seems to have worked out quite well.

How did you find out about the contest?

For my Masters’ dissertation, I was looking at designers who had been able to work in different areas of the problem I was interested to solve. I noticed that a way of gaining validation was winning competitions. Soon enough I came across the Dyson Award and thought I could make a move.

How and when did you decide to work with your current partner, Yaseen?

After I decided I wanted to participate in the competition, I invited him along. For our Master’s degree, all of us had a project but not everyone had the chance of making it real. I saw Yasdesigning, developing, and taking one of his ideas to a manufacturer in Thailand. This is not something everyone is able to do and so I wanted him to join. Fortunately, he was keen enough to accept my offer.

Did you manage to find support from staff at the Lancaster University?

At the beginning it hasn’t been easy; we knocked a few doors and they mostly seemed closed. But with a bit of persistence, we managed to find Andy Pickard, director of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster. He introduced us to a few people who could have been interested in our idea and one of them was Harry Hoster, director of Energy Lancaster. He supported us by taking the project as one of his own, and that gave us access to a lot of precious facilities that helped us.

Other people that supported us were them from the Enterprise Centre. They coached me, helped prepare the entry and turn the project into a feasible business.

What has been the most valuable thing you are taking away from participating to this competition?

Perhaps validation and media attention. When you present your ideas to a business and tell them you did something great, it is difficult for them to believe you unless you have evidence of it. The James Dyson Award gave us exactly what we needed. Now, it is also easier to find people thanks to the network we are creating.

What are you next steps now?

Developing the project and taking it to market, by the looks of it, it will probably take two years. After, we aim to present the project to businesses that could be interested in it. Meanwhile, we are applying for grants, mainly in Chile.

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