Doing laundry is a fairly simple chore. Building an off-grid, human-powered washing machine is rather a more complicated matter, as Yi Jiang is continuing to find out.
The founder of Yirego Corp., a startup in Toronto, is still perfecting his Drumi, a pedal-powered washer that was supposed to be delivered to customers last summer.
That was the third version of the product, says Mr. Jiang, 29. But, "in order to meet manufacturing requirements, we built a new one."
That model incorporated a handle for easier transportation, a child lock on the lid and an aluminum rather than plastic pedal mechanism. Five centimetres were shaved off the top, and other changes would make the manufacturing, which takes place in Shenzhen, China, a more streamlined process.
But then further refinements led to a fifth version, which had a lower centre of gravity for greater stability, and ultimately a sixth, which is 10 per cent shorter still and should be finalized by February.
"Basically it will optimize all the existing features and we'll just improve the overall structure," Mr. Jiang says. It will have fewer parts and be more stable.
The new Drumi is unchanged in weight at about six kilograms and will still hold up to 2.2 kilograms of clothing. The method of operation is the same: The user adds five litres of water and detergent and pumps the pedal, then drains the dirty water at the touch of a button. Clean water is added to rinse the clothes.
Mr. Jiang and his Drumi were featured in a Small Business Challenge article in The Globe and Mail in November of 2015. The entrepreneur, who was a student at OCAD University in Toronto, came up with the idea after trekking to the basement of his Toronto high-rise apartment building to do laundry.
Deliveries of the washer will begin this summer. The company has already taken preorders for 3,000 units. The Drumi is listed on the company's website for $265.
Constant refinements and adjustments are normal in the launch of a product, but that doesn't make it any easier to assuage customers who were expecting their Drumi six months ago.
Some have asked for their money back, Mr. Jiang says, a request that Yirego is happy to accommodate. "We want to make sure we can deliver the best quality," he said.
The basic Drumi is just a starting point, Mr. Jiang says. The goal is to produce an entire line, including a more compact unit for recreational vehicles, a model on wheels for campers, and maybe a unit powered by a rechargeable battery or solar panels.
But first Yirego needs to grow. The company has moved out of OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst incubator and into its own space. It has also opened an office in Shenzhen to co-ordinate the manufacturing process. The staff has doubled to 12 from a year ago, with four based in China.
One of those is a dedicated marketing person. Mr. Jiang sees Asia as a growth area.
"I think there's a huge opportunity, especially in high-density cities, for example Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai/Beijing," he says.