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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.

/g/j/h/TE_Dyson_Airblade_tap2.jpg

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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  • Anonymous |
    '- the air blade toilet - cut out all the fuss and time messing with paper and save a rain forest at the same time.'

    Already there - Look at some of the Japanese and other loos, not all require paper!

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  • Andrex need not worry. There is a lot of work to do on the "over-spray" aspect of a potential replacement for loo paper...

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  • If a tap is 'just a tap' then a bridge is just a board over a bit of water and a Space Rocket is just a big firework. Everything is simple from a distance however, even the most mundane is complex close up ... and that's after you have managed to think of the idea in the first place.

    I wash my hands of you! Wink!

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  • Isn't the motor supposed to be really rather good? To be fair I think the BBC article did go into that. Perhaps the answer if for James Dyson himself to point out to the media/general public all the great innovation and engineering that is going on in this country at the moment. Sadly he seems to also be sticking to his line that we do the smart stuff and get things manufactured over seas. That is the real nut that needs cracking in my opionion. Think of the fantastic factory we could have and all those lovely exports if ARM manufactured their own technology here in the UK for example.

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  • Well Alan Bond and his Skylon-Sabre engine project was on a VT on The One Show on BBC1 this week. Totally unexpected but welcome.

    For me Sabre is a much better example than Dyson of a Bold Ambitious, long term project that could transform the world & that are still possible in the UK & don't involve tiny nano/micro/genetic technologies (good as they are). Dyson and the 'Design'/Industrial Engineers are good, but limited in what they can offer in terms of an exciting future vision that doesn't just involve more gadgets.

    Also over the past 3 years shows on engineering and manufacturing have been shown on TV to a level that I can't keep up with them all. So I think engineers need to lighten up - we've got a bit of lime light - so let's dream up some more exciting technologies to wow teh media and public.

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  • Innovation? Exactly where is the innovation and novely? Surely not the Dryer-Tap itself? That functional twinning effectively already exists and has been found installed in those many tiny wash-rooms at McDonald's establishments around the country for a good long time.

    So I guess it must lie in the motor design tweaks and some novel way in which the previous Airblade technology has been squeezed into side tubes?

    If so, then let the facts stand on their own without the unnecessary hype. Too much spin will just rebound on the Dyson brand at some later date and rub-off negatively on UK engineering and manufacturing in the future.

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  • It is almost useless with a hint of ridiculousness. It will cost huge amount of money (especially, because it is Dyson), it will combine water tap and air dryer in quite an ugly combination.

    The problem with the publicity is that it makes a picture, that all engineers do is creating some strange combination of what has been around for years.

    The only thing really a bit different produced by Dyson was the bladeless fan. Again, this is coanda air amplifier, which is used in industry for years again, just wider public does not know about it.

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  • So, if I'm correct this thingy is actually no more than a blow dryer and a tap in one?
    For £1000,- Wow.

    Good PR is necessary there.

    OK, you save 5 seconds by not walking to the dryer. But the next guy behind you has to wait 20 seconds for you to Piss Off, while standing there with his dirty hands.

    So either you end up with people running around with dirty hands (no more patience) causing unhygienic situations.

    Or, you have to buy a bigger toilet area and install more expensive Dyson taps.

    Solution:
    install some cheap blowers over the tap for the same effect, or just don't care.

    this one really sucks, oh sorry it blows.

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  • What is really sad is the ongoing role played by the press in being negative to the point where the spiritually advanced people are told to spend no time on radio, TV, newspapers or magazines. There was a time when good reporters were important in that they celebrated life and human achievement. Now they look down on everything and everyone and think that they are lifting themselves up. So sad! Such a waste. Not typical of The Engineer, but here too.

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  • I have followed Mr Dyson for years now. For the last 30 years I Have designed machines and mechanisms and have a number of patents.

    The Dyson vacuum cleaner works on the cyclone system. I bought a number of industrial cyclone vacuum units back in the early 80s long before the Dyson.

    The hand driers, I was in japan 15 years ago where they had driers working on the same principle, they actually looked identical but not Dyson's.

    The fan based on a venturi air accelerator. We have been using nozzles based on this principle for to my knowledge 30 years.

    Can you spot the drift of this. I wouldn't class these devices as new designs just new applications. Not in the same league as Brunel.

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  • Almost a hint of sour grapes coming through on this item. I must admit I am slightly disappointed in the reactions of some. For all his faults we have an Englishman with his own company selling a billion pounds a year with 80% sold overseas and yet he is an object of derision.

    The pay back of an installed air machine is under a year compared to paper towels according to American sites.

    These taps will free up wallspace for an extra loo or urinal in an office or pub etc. and of course add cachet to those places of entertainment : )

    Dyson may not be Brunel but as a commercially aware and successful designer/engineer who else have we got currently? Excluding the software and computer industry i am hard put to think of any British inventor who comes near.

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  • Mr Dyson is quite clearly a very clever man, however I remember when his new "hoover" became a huge market success, the first thing he did was to lay off all his manufacturing staff in the UK and ship his factory to some foreign land! I myself have been working in manufacturing for the last 26 years and I wouldn't have one of his products in my home if it was FREE let alone £1000!

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  • I dunno, but for a thousand, I want this thing to wash and blow more than my hands.

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  • Agreed with the comments, this is an invention NOT waiting to happen. No-one has invented a better way of drying hands than a dry towel: the roller towel was a good option when public toilets (a few still) had the money and attendants to keep them filled. Some paper towels work OK. Hot air driers take too long and are usually left before the hands are dry. (They also go off when anyone passes)

    The complicated and expensive device here is no way better than the simplest water tap/faucet, and preferably an old-ish one with a washer which is all that needs (rarely) maintenance.

    Dyson is in danger of going down the route of Sinclair with his electric bathtub on wheels . .

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  • As a product engineer with not enough private resources - here are two things that DESPERATELY need reinventing/evolution:

    1. Nail clipper to not throw debris around a 3 mile radius

    2. Tyre inflator nozzles at petrol stations that don't need you to call in fantastic four

    And by the way a lot of people are gonna have dry and will prefer pat-dry. Use that motor/pump in your tap to make a supercharger instead!

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  • We wouldn't need any form of mechanical contrivance if we knew how to dry our hands properly with paper towels . . .

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FMBSblpcrc

    A solution to a non-problem

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  • At least being-one hopes-associated with a sink, it gives somewhere for the water to go, unlike the Airblade dryers which end up just blasting the water onto the floor, rendering a good idea worse than useless.

    Not always enamoured with his products, attitude or the Engineering of his products. However, he is an innovator or at least a developer and who wouldn't mind being a pound behind him ?

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  • At least some agree that Dyson sucks. Too much of the smarmy car salesman for my liking but at least he is a British 'engineer' making his products in Asia to sell in the UK.

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  • actually I think this is a good idea because it blows the water into the sink!, I am amazed that all hand dryers, especially the new high power ones, which have no doubt been spawned by the airblade blow the water all over the floor, the wall and usually your shoes and trousers! The sneering sarcasm from the engineers "senior reporter" is becoming typical of a magazine that doesn't know a blast furnace from an open hearth furnace (qv) too many wordsmiths and not enough blacksmiths perhaps?

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  • It's worth restating at this point that the article was not a criticism of Dyson or of the new tap, but rather the breathless media frenzy with which it was greeted.

  • What a cynical lot we seem to be, judging by most of the comments above.
    To be fair to James Dyson, he didn't just make a slightly better vacuum cleaner, he made a MUCH better vacuum cleaner; something that existing manufactures had not bothered to do, and showed no interest in, when Dyson offered it to them - hence why he started up his own company.
    So let's be fair to the guy, original concepts they may not be, but good applications they are; and he has at least had the balls to have a go at something few others seem bothered to do.
    So when you have introduced your 'new big idea' to market, and sold a million of them - then, and only then, are you in a position to criticize those who have.

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  • It is good to see mention of engineering work in the media, however there is a whole world of engineers the world over as well,such as myself here in the great USA. Moreover the development tools available now enables us little guys to do things on par with big companies. Achieving this was not possible even a few years ago.

    My 2 cents

    Ron harding
    grand blanc, MI

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  • I've been to many countries where AirBlades are prolific. Considering the space saving nature of this new product, with a single installation point, suck, blow or squirt, it's likely to bring in revenue for the company and the country, even if manufactured abroad. One shouldn't mock unless one can do better.

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  • From what I understood paper towels were actually more hygienic than air driers.

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  • Had I been in the club, I too would surely have contributed to some different products, currently I have a tyre that will prevent slipping over BLACK ICE, specially for regions where there is a lot of snow on the streets, roads and highways in Europe, America, Japan, Chine and Russia. Other is the usage of waste paper for the production of tables, doors, shelves etc, next is the rail roads safety systems for avoiding train collisions and checking high speeds of trains where not desired, even if there is a unmanned runaway train. What about have a very simple solution to prevent flooding of homes and condos, all affordable to the common man.

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  • Several years ago on a visit to a cafe at the Albert Dock in Liverpool the toilets had a similar soap/wash/ dry system, all behind the bottom edge of the mirror and now so do most of the convinences along the South Coast. Put your hands under the correct place and there you are.
    Mr Dyson has perhaps improved the blast of air, but current people practice seem that a lot of folks are leaving the toilets with wet hands. So the question to ask is, 'do we need the drier'?

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  • It doesn't matter what the invention this country doesn't capitalise or promote it enough. Take the Hovercraft or the Harrier jump jet two wonderful inventions that we didn't promote enough but allowed others to further develop. OK, so the Dyson tap/hand-dryer is nothing new in the respect of washing drying technology, but give the man credit for trying. I expect Brunell would have been ridiculed for his ideas in the same way if he was around today. He also would have had to go abroad to further his ideas because no one in this country would have been willing to stick their neck out and back him. It's too easy to mock someones ideas, but it's from these that perhaps greater ideas and inventions form.

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  • What this article doesn't state is that you can't even change the temperature of the water! Nor can you alter the amount of time it sprays water/blows air.Not a very versitile tap.... and it still uses the same tech as the airblade dyer.

    His vacuum cleaners aren't good. They're ugly (my opinion) and you can see the crap flying around. Miele are far neater and AirRam uses only 100W. Dyson products are all re-inventions, novel - yes, life changing- no. Agree with Author, too much hype for a re-invented product. Shows what a name can do eh??

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  • It might be a lucrative idea to register a patent for a carpet cleaning hand drier boat that will also wash clothes and has balls for wheels.
    It could set back the natural course of Dyson Development for years though!

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  • Paper towels are more hygienic than air driers. However they are also considerably more expensive once you go beyond 12 month as by that time the air dryer has been paid for.

    You also free up storage room, orders , deliveries and staffing.

    Given there is not BSI test for cleanliness of hands, rather like there is no BSI for cleaning teeth, we have to accept that more hygienic is actually a relative term and not of much practical interest to most businessmen - and for that matter most humans.

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  • Please can everyone remember that none of the great Brunel's inventions made a penny of profit during his lifetime. He was always a chronic overspender. We also only tend to remember the great things he did, and forget the epic failure that was his atmospheric railway system, which he pushed ahead with at great expense (his shareholders', not his) despite huge evidence early on that it was technically the wrong solution.

    For all his faults, James Dyson deserves a lot of credit for building up a successful technology business from the ground up.

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  • If everyone were to wash their hands after going to a public Loo, there would not be enough wash basins to go around. Maybe combine the wash facility and the Loo!!

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  • Brunel's structures are still standing. I've had to scrap a couple of JD's vacuum cleaners because of really poor detailing on the plastics mouldings and poor material choice, despite their great functionality while they were still working. I refused to try a third! I've spent four decades working on design & development of plastics parts, so I often feel like screaming when I see otherwise great designs ruined by utterly basic design faux pas. Sadly, the problem is not confined to that brand, but is part of a stream of similar failures that continue to give plastics — rather than the inadequately trained designers that define their form — a bad name.

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  • I'd agree with John Mcloughlin's comment about plastic parts design, I know little about this particular branch of engineering, but as an end user I come across it continually, brackets, supports, all manner of plastic bits, which fail all too often in a way that is no surprise, good design of these components is vital and yes JD's vacuums do suffer with those faults. The interesting parallel with Brunel, is that he is controversial. Look on the web and you see swathes of opinion either very pro or very anti his vacuums. I gather that Brunel raised similar passions at the time, what controversy was there ever over a Hoover or Electrolux vacuum? None as far as I know. Any design that has a different approach from the norm tends to do that. I don't like seeing all the dust flying round JD's vacuums but nor do I like spending a fortune on bags, nor may I point out are his vacuums massively more expensive than the much vaunted Miele as far as I can see.
    Anyway back to JD, he occupies the same place in his area as Apple do in the computer area, premium products at a premium price, he may not be entirely original, but genuinely original manufacturing ideas are getting thin on the ground. Most tend to be, sometimes radical, rethinks of past ideas. Changes in manufacturing technology make things that would have been vastly impractical or too expensive years ago common place. You see many copies of JD's vacuums at a fraction of his price now and I'm sure the same will happen with his tap in the end, but in the end like Apple computers, the cheap copies lack that indefinable sense of quality and design of the originals.

    The next revolution in manufacturing is probably with us in the form of 3D printing, as this technology matures it should change manufacturing in the same sort of way as injection moulding did, giving people like JD an opportunity to further inflame our passions pro or anti, bring it on!!

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