Friday, 25 July 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.

/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)

  • 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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