Thursday, 28 August 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)

  • 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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