It took 125 engineers three years and 3,300 prototypes to develop Dyson’s latest innovation, a hand dryer called the Airblade Tap that seeks to "reinvent the way we wash our hands." The company unveiled the stainless-steel Tap alongside two other hand dryers: an update to their successful Airblade and a sleeker, smaller model called the Blade V.
At first glance, the Tap might seem like it’s trying to do too many things at once. But as James Dyson explained at a press event last night, the combination was based on a behavioral insight about restrooms. "Washing and drying your hands tends not to be a very pleasant experience," he said. Water splashes, paper is wasted, and germs are passed along. "The Tap is a totally different experience. You have your own sink, your own dryer."
Along with the Tap, Dyson showed off the Blade V, a sleeker dryer that’s 60% thinner than the somewhat cartoonish first-gen Airblade. Meanwhile, the new Airblade is almost six pounds lighter than the original, and stronger at that—it endured millions of hours of battery in the lab to increase its durability ("we replicated what happens inside an English pub," Dyson says).
Hand dryers might not seem crucial to some product designers, but for Dyson, they present a fascinating engineering challenge that pits airspeed against decibels. The Airblade works so well because it "scrapes" water off your hands with a 420 mph blast of air, unlike conventional dryers that use heat. But getting air to rush that fast requires a high-powered motor, and yep, those are loud. Dyson and his team have spent seven years and a staggering $42.3 million developing the new V4 motor, which is one of the smallest and quietest high-power motors, mainly thanks to a pressure-based sound dampening principle first observed by a 19th-century Prussian engineer named Hermann von Helmholtz.
Dyson, who we last wrote about when he invested $8 million in a student design incubator focused on engineering, hinted that his namesake company will continue to expand into new markets. That’s not hard to believe—Dyson files a new patent every day. After radically reinventing the vacuum, the fan, the heater, the hand dryer, and now the faucet, it’s fascinating to wonder what’s next. In the New Yorker’s compelling 2010 profile of the inventor, he hinted that the company is looking further into the future as it expands. "[In the early years] we were very focused on products," he told John Seabrook. "But as time passed we have begun to look further out at more blue-sky stuff." For my money, it’d be great to see Dyson apply their ground-up approach to a design challenge at an urban scale, like public transit.
The Tap will cost around $1,500 when it goes on pre-sale today. For more on the new products, check out Dyson’s website.