Is it a teleporter, is it a hoverboard? No, it’s a tap

Senior reporter

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.

Bluebird's concept electric racer
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.