Friday, 19 September 2014
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Is it a teleporter, is it a hoverboard? No, it's a tap

A revolutionary piece of technology that could fundamentally change the lives of millions was unveiled this week.

James Dyson, widely regarded as the most brilliant engineer since Brunel, has finally solved the problem of having to walk between the taps and the dryer after washing your hands.

The new Airblade tap, which includes the startling innovation of combining jets of air with a traditional water faucet, is set to shave literally seconds from bathroom visits around the world.

Ok, enough sarcasm. But sadly that’s not too far from the real reaction much of the media gave Dyson’s new product when it was launched on Monday night. The coverage was so prominent and at times sycophantic that you’d think the man had invented nuclear fusion not a slightly different way to dry your hands.

In fact, the hype began well in advance of the unveiling. ‘Dyson new invention: What could it be?’ asked the Guardian website, setting off a wave of mildly interested speculation from a bunch of people checking the site because they were bored at work.

Unfortunately, all this build up around the launch of a new product from the company that previously brought you a vacuum cleaner and a fan was bound to lead to an anticlimax.

Dyson’s about to launch its latest technology! What could it be? A hoverboard? A teleporter? A perpetual motion machine?! No, it’s a tap. With a couple of little fans stuck on the side.

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Source: Dyson

The Dyson Airblade tap: changing the world, one drip at a time.

This isn’t a criticism of Dyson, by any means. The company is full of talented engineers, designers and (obviously) PR people, and its boss is clearly an astute businessman. Congratulations to them all for their hard and successful work.

But it galls me that the most fussed-over invention of the last 12 months is a tap. A well designed, unusual tap that will probably make lots of money (each unit costs £1,000). But a tap nonetheless.

As readers of The Engineer know, there are plenty of fascinating and important new devices under development in this country. And yet the UK’s most famous engineer is a man who’s made middle class floors slightly cleaner.

I’m not convinced that most people buy into the hype either. The first reader comment on the Guardian’s blog cheekily pointed out that every Dyson product either sucks or blows. Which set the tone for pretty much the whole thread.

Then again, what else should I expect from a media that classes technology as anything with a pixel. That scrutinises every move of the latest Silicon Valley startups but cares little for the companies that actually employ larges swathes of the British workforce.

A quick look at the BBC News website shows there are just three stories on its technology homepage about traditionally engineered products, covering electric car charging, the (also much-hyped) Raspberry Pi computer, and – you guessed it – the Dyson tap.

I guess all that remains is to wonder what James Dyson might do next. As he’s reinvented the tap, I suggested he might have a go at doing the same for the wheel. But as The Engineer editor Jon Excell pointed out to me, he’s already done this with his ballbarrow.

I’ll just have to hold out for that hoverboard.


Readers' comments (43)

  • Far more interesting is what else you can do with a Dyson product than clean your floor. Try the Vacuum Bazooka. (Instructions in lots of places on hackersphere websites like mine). Or try your own variation on crazy things to do with a (not really very interesting) domestic appliance. You could even make your own hoverboard, I reckon, but maybe only by branching out from Dyson to the Black and Decker Co - start with a leaf blower or a hovermower?

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  • As I sit here eating my Friday lunchtime battered sausage and chips I am well placed to know that the humble plastic fork is well overdue some major re-imagineering. Perhaps Dyson can focus on this tremendous challenge next?

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  • As an Engineer, a Professional One, I am disgusted with UK attitudes to Engineers.
    Well, its got to be clear what comes next, since everything Dyson either sucks or blows, that it comes out of the following:
    - the air blade windscreen wiper - get rid of the squeaks and streaks,
    - the bag-less grocery shopping - all the purchases are sucked up and delivered automatically to the boot of your car,
    - the air blade toilet - cut out all the fuss and time messing with paper and save a rain forest at the same time.
    Any more ideas.

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  • I would just like to echo/add to the comments about "technology" the term has become widely misused, there is no new technology in either the tap or the stupid vacuum cleaners just novel application of some very old technology.

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  • Let's not be jealous of this rather innovative concept, it is indeed pretty cool, and novel

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  • It's just good to see British technology in the media. Lets encourage it as on its coat tails will come better and bigger things.

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  • Take your point that the media should be doing more to promote the immense value of engineers to the economy. That said, Dyson is the poster boy so it's inevitable that the story will get hyped so what does the great man have in mind: presumably at £1000 a piece they have specific applications in places where customers now sue for slipping on wet floors and where EU directives on waste paper / green targets etc are in force - hotels, workplaces, service stations, schools will all presumably get told by lawyers to buy them where it's reasonable to foresee a slip and a Claim - think he has spotted a real market opportunity thanks to our Health and Safety mad culture - thank you legal profession and Eurocrats for motivating our engineers.

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  • You may object to the hype but don't forget that most non-engineering people do not usually take any notice of the contribution that engineers make to our society. They drive cars, wash clothes, flush toilets, use mobile phones, without appreciating that everything they use in everyday life has been designed and made by the engineering sector. If the Dyson publicity helps to highlight the importance of engineers then it is good publicity.

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  • A brilliant Engineer becoming more and more out of touch with reality? Sir Clive Sinclair springs to mind. The contra rotating washing machine was Dyson's C5, We are so obsessed with celebrity and ridiculous inventions that ' we can't possibly live without' that the important discoveries and engineering breakthroughs go unnoticed. This man Invented a slightly better Vacuum Cleaner!! Brunel made a massive difference to this country and I doubt the fact that something can suck or blow a little bit harder will do the same.

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  • First this is not something new - devices to do the same job have been around for years. Usually found in horrible aging public loos!

    Secondly water + electricity + human being never a good idea if it's not essential

    Thirdly look at the number of dryers versus wash basins in a typical facility they are not the same, ever wondered why! Guess he is hoping every basin will be fitted with this device rather than matching needs of his customers efficiently!

    Dyson is becoming a bit of a one horse race - His stand alone hand dryer design installed in our local gym can only be described as a design by someone without the first idea of hygiene principles - virtually unusable without touching the sides of the unit with your hands. C

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