Blown Away

A look inside Dyson’s house of the future

By Oliver Smith 6 May 2015
Summary

Britain’s most prolific inventor shows no signs of slowing down. We take a peek at the fantastic machines of the future he's building.

Step into the home of the future.

First, lay aside the image of garish robotic devices. Form doesn’t have to bow to function when it comes to your household chores.

Imagine light bulbs that never have to be changed and stay as bright as the day you bought them… 37 years ago. A cordless vacuum cleaner that will effortlessly clean anything from dust to Cheerios, and weighs slightly more than a MacBook Pro. A sink that both washes and dries your hands in 12 seconds.

Step into the house that Dyson built.

We visited one of Dyson’s ‘houses’, brimful with its latest devices, in South Kensington.

The house that Dyson built

In the 1970s a young James Dyson was visiting a sawmill on the outskirts of Bath when he came across a cyclonic separator, separating dirt from air by rotating the air at high speed through a cone.

A flash of inspiration and 30 years later he has built an iconic British technology empire, Dyson, with revenues totalling £6bn and profits of £800m in 2013.

At first the serial entrepreneur began by simply revolutionising vacuum cleaners—no small feat, but one he achieved by combining the cyclonic tech he’d stumbled across in Bath.

James Dyson has since taken his eponymous firm and its technology into just about every corner of the home and beyond.

Matt Kelly, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer at Dyson, and the blueprint of the V6 Fluffy vacuum he helped design.

The hands-on founder

The Memo visited one of Dyson’s ‘houses’ in London—a faux home complete with bathroom, carpets and filled, of course, with Dyson products—to take a look at some extraordinary creations.

Matt Kelly—a 25-year-old mechanical engineer from Dyson’s research, design and development department—explains that James Dyson himself still maintains a strong influence on the day-to-day running of the company.

“I’ve been sat a table and been called up for a review of your project—which happens quite regularly at certain milestones,” says Kelly.

The level of interest and scrutiny you get is quite surprising for a guy in his position [James Dyson is still Chief Engineer]. He’ll be picking things up and inspecting every aspect… trying to pull things apart and quizzing us about: ‘can we do anything about this wall section, can we move any of this weight around’.

Fluffy by name…

Since his first vacuum in 1993, James Dyson has not only pushed cyclonic technology into entirely new product categories like vans and hand dryers, but he’s also been unrelenting in bringing innovation to every aspect of his products.

Fluffy is a great example.

“Typically cleaner heads either have a seal that creates a strong suction and picks up fine material, but if you’ve got Cheerios or chunks of granola you end up pushing them around,” says Kelly. “Other heads are designed to deal with those by letting those big bits in, but lack the seal and that high suction.”

With Fluffy, Dyson’s engineers have created a fluffy seal that both catches small particles allows larger chunks into the vacuum.

V6 Absolute, starting at £449.99

Refining a winning formula

Dyson’s team has also continued to refine their cyclonic technology, shown here in the group’s latest cordless vacuum, the V6 Absolute.

The V6 boasts three times the suction of any other cordless in the market and the firm is increasingly marketing them as a replacement for full-sized vacuums, especially for flats and apartments.

CSYS Lamp, £550

The lightbulb moment

The company is branching out into new product areas too; earlier this month James Dyson acquired his son’s lighting business, Jake Dyson Lighting, and folded it into his growing empire.

And of course, coming from a Dyson, the lights are anything but ordinary. Boasting a striking design, fully adjustable with the lightest touch of a finger, but the real innovation is beneath the surface.

“LEDs are essentially tiny semiconductor chips and they get really hot as the electricity passes through. So you either run them bright and they fail quickly, or you don’t run them as hard and they last longer but they’re not as bright.”

Jake Dyson added copper pipes which take that heat and quickly spread it down the arm of the lamp—creating a LED lamp that lasts for 37 years at full brightness.

Dyson Airblade Tap, £1,149.99

Full flow

Most people have tried Dyson’s Airblade hand dryers in restaurants or bars, but a product you may not have seen (possibly due to its £1,149.99 price tag) is the Airblade Tap.

Only found in the most exclusive of bathrooms, including the sinks throughout The Shard, Tap takes the concept of a combo-sink/dryer and supercharges it.

Its stainless steel body—”machined to high precision”—conceals both a traditional tap and Dyson’s powerful motor to dry wet hands in just 12 seconds. All without having to leave the sink.

Matt showing off Dyson's CSYS Lamp.

Branching out

Dyson prides itself in bringing high-tech engineering, developed from its UK headquarters, to everyday products. And its founder has big plans in store for the next few years.

Just last month James Dyson led the business to make its first ever external investment, ploughing $15m into next-generation US battery firm Sakti3.

Sakti3 is developing solid-state technology with the hope of doubling the capacity of the batteries used in today’s smartphones. “There really hasn’t been a step-change in battery technology since Sony invented [the lithium-ion battery] in 1991,” explains Kelly.

The move makes perfect sense as Dyson’s products increasingly demand powerful batteries, especially in one of Dyson’s longest-running research projects…

Dyson 360 Eye, pricing and availability yet to be announced.

Eye on the prize

“When you get more power with less weight, entirely new products become viable,” says Kelly.

This was the thinking behind 360 Eye: a robotic cleaner arriving later this year. Its all-seeing eye maps out your house before applying the suction of eight Dyson cyclones to thoroughly clean hard floors and carpets.

But even lighting and robotic vacuums aren’t enough. James Dyson has said he plans to spread his signature technology even further into our homes and lives.

“Over the next four years we’re looking to launch 100 new products over four new categories… robotic cleaning is a whole new kind of products for us, and we’re expecting more to be coming soon,” says Kelly.

Prepare to be blown away.