From Dust to Dyson


Dust is a serious problem in New York City. Like it or not all denizens of the Big Apple are confronted with a grim and unrelenting reality – the dust stops here. There is so much particulate matter floating around this city that even after cleaning floors and other surfaces the dust returns without fail in a day or two. If you wait a week or a month to confront the dust you will have to peel it off in layers. Dust is gathered into tight spots and corners all over the apartment, congregating and snuggling in the toughest to reach pockets. Because of all this dust we New Yorkers seem to cough and sneeze more than most people. There are also, it turns out, health risks associated with dust exposure. Bulk dust monitoring stations in Manhattan have detected unsafe levels of Asbestos, particularly in the vicinity of the World Trade Center. A two-year study of atmospheric deposition documented a continuous source of deposited leaded dust in interior and exterior locations throughout New York City. All this dust is not only a nuisance but also hazardous to respiration and overall health.

The Dust Problem is hardly the sole providence of New Yorkers but rather is ubiquitous around the world. Everybody has to deal with dust. It’s part of the human condition. And so I began a search for a well-designed and solidly constructed vacuum cleaner that would become my friend, an ally in the eternal war on dust.

I had never heard of Dyson vacuum cleaners until quite recently and had only a vague idea that they were supposed to be good. What I didn’t know was that the company is named for James Dyson, a remarkably talented and innovative engineer, designer and inventor. Dyson matriculated at London’s Royal College of Art where he developed the Sea Truck, a high-speed landing craft that has logged sales of over $500 million to date. He also pioneered new designs for existing products utilizing the physical advantages of large pneumatic balls to enhance functionality. One such invention is the Ballbarrow, a barrow utilizing a ball filled with compressed air instead of a wheel that facilitates its use in soft sand and other conditions that have proven difficult for the traditional wheelbarrow since its earliest inception in ancient Greece. Other noted inventions credited to James Dyson include the Trolleyball practical boat-launcher, and the Wheelboat, a futuristic-looking vehicle with enormous tires that travels 40mph on land or on water. The guiding principles of all James Dyson designs seek to marry practicality with simplicity in function through the pursuit of innovative efficiencies. I also suspect that Mr. Dyson and his team of engineers are motivated to improve quality of life, for themselves and others, by making functional design improvements to make life easier by simplifying common tasks.

A quirk of fate put Dyson onto the idea that would ultimately revolutionize the common vacuum cleaner. The cyclone of a nearby saw mill caught his eye and he wondered if its function, in which the device spun and captured sawdust from the air and deposited it into a chamber, could be applied to the problem of clogging vacuum cleaner bags. It took five years and 5,127 prototypes before Dyson had created a cyclone-based machine that had no bag and no loss of suction by the early 1990’s. Major manufacturers showed little interest in this new technology, in part because they wanted to maintain the $500 million a year vacuum bag market, and Dyson ultimately licensed his invention in Japan where technological innovation is celebrated. Finally, with royalties earned from his original licensed design of the pink G-Force, Dyson was able to manufacture his own machine with patented Cyclone technology, the DC01, for the market in 1993.

Vigorous innovation and a slew of technological improvements have followed from the original DC01 design over the years. Dyson and his engineering team have created smaller multiple cyclones for successive models that generate greater centrifugal forces to capture more microscopic dust than other machines. Dyson invented a digital motor to replace the traditional electric motor and its carbon dust emissions. The Dyson motor is controlled by a microchip and spins up to 104,000 rpm, five times faster than a modern Indy car engine. Because of this speed the motor is half the size and half the weight of traditional motors in addition to being carbon-free. The latest innovation, the Dyson Ball, has done away with fixed wheels on a fixed axle and replaced them with one of Mr. Dyson’s favorite and most functional design elements, a high-impact strength ball. The glass-reinforced polypropylene ball houses the motor giving the machine a low center of gravity. Because the vacuuming apparatus rides on a ball and pivots on a single point it is able to steer around obstacles with the turn of a wrist, making the machine much easier to use than traditional vacuum cleaners. And there are no bags to worry about with a Dyson vacuum cleaner but rather a one-touch hygienic easy-to-empty bin; push a button and the dust drops into the trash.

I was tickled to discover a convenient handle on the shipping box of the DC25 Dyson Ball when it arrived, an amenity that made transporting it seem a walk in the park. This was just the first hint of the innovative design that goes into all of Dyson’s products. The box containing Dyson’s super new vacuum cleaner opens neatly like a simple suitcase, a feature that I almost missed when I started to rip it open from the top before noticing the diagram on the box exterior showing how to open the box sensibly. It’s all in the details and Dyson nails them one after another throughout every single design innovation of their product line.

The Dyson Ball not only turns on a dime but doesn’t lose suction power during vacuuming as the result of other innovations. Airmuscle technology combines three key components – a powered cam, a pneumatic actuator and a high-torque clutch to maintain suction by precisely adjusting the cleaner head to all floor surfaces. The powerful suction and maneuverability of this Dyson Ball DC25 model make it hands’ down the best vacuum cleaner I have ever used. The machine is full-sizeed with a 16-foot reach but weighs only 16 pounds because of the lighter digital motor and other design innovations. The DC24 is an ultra-lightweight Dyson Ball product that is two-thirds the size of the DC25 and weighs 11.6 pounds. Both models contain a lifetime HEPA filtering system that expels air with much less bacteria and mold than the air we breathe. The filters will need to be washed with water every three months but you will never have to buy bags, belts or filters for Dyson machines.

The DC25 All Floors machine retails for $499.99, a modest expenditure for a brilliantly designed necessity that will make your life easier for many years to come. Dyson makes a complete line of vacuum cleaners to fit specific needs, such as, the DC25 Animal model for dealing with heavy pet hair, and the DC25 Blueprint, a vacuum cleaner that celebrates engineers even more than the standard Dyson machine. You will also find a variety of canister vacuum cleaners including the DC23 Turbinehead as well as powerful handheld models such as the DC31. Assembly of a Dyson machine is remarkably simple requiring no screw drivers or wrenches of any sort. All parts are designed to snap simply into place. All machines come with a variety of attachments which also snap conveniently onto the cleaner. A 5-year warranty backs up the rigorous and iterative testing of all Dyson products and provides testament to the quality of the entire Dyson lineup. There is something fun and exciting about using a Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner not unlike experiencing the treat of intelligent design flair that The Jetsons brought to us years ago. Dyson is innovative and intelligent and the Dyson Ball is indispensable to all who fight the dust wars on a daily basis.

Perhaps one of the latest Dyson inventions, the Dyson Airblade, an energy efficient commercial hand dryer that produces sheets of clean air traveling at 400mph to literally wipe water from your hands will ultimately end up in a museum. If so it would join other Dyson machines that are exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London among other institutions. One thing is certain, that James Dyson will not rest on the laurels of his inventions but rather will continue to innovate and inspire. The James Dyson Foundation seeks to encourage young people to consider engineering as a career by running workshops across the globe and giving our youth the opportunity to solve engineering challenges in a practical hands-on way. Check out the Dyson website, it’s product line and all of its’ other works and I expect you’ll be impressed too!

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