The famed designer and inventor isn't slowing down.
By Omar Akhtar, contributor
FORTUNE — Founder of the Dyson Company and inventor of the cyclonic vacuum cleaner and bladeless fan, James Dyson stopped by Fortune‘s offices recently to demonstrate his company’s latest line of hand dryers. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions while he was here.
Dyson’s Airblade Tap Hand Dryer allows you to wash and dry your hands at the same sink so that you don’t drip your hands across the bathroom floor. Infrared sensors pinpoint hand positions and release water from the faucet, which stops once you remove your hands. You can then dry them on the two Airblade branches on either side of the tap that blow high velocity sheets of air, drying your hand entirely in 14 seconds. The company is also releasing updated versions of its conventional wall-mount hand dryers, the Dyson Airblade V hand dryer and the Dyson Airblade mk2. Currently the products are being tested at LaGuardia airport’s Delta Terminal.
The performance improvement in all the new dryers comes from the development of a new digital motor. Dyson says it is one of the world’s smallest 1400W motors and is capable of accelerating from 0-92,000 rpm in less than 0.7 seconds, which brings it into the speed range of a car turbo charger. The tremendous velocity being generated by the motor allows it to dry hands faster and makes it more energy-efficient. The dryer is also equipped with a HEPA air filter, which purifies the air blown onto the hands, keeping it free from the bacteria in the contaminated air of the bathroom.
How does the company invent?
Dyson has a history of taking existing products and working to remove their shortcomings, improving them to the point of reinventing them. He set out to reinvent the vacuum cleaner in the 70’s because he was frustrated that the manufacturers hadn’t improved on the design in 20 years. “I thought no one was bothering to use technology in vacuum cleaners, I saw a great opportunity to improve,” says Dyson.
Since then, Dyson has focused on applying groundbreaking engineering and technology to improve “prosaic” household items such as vacuum cleaners, fans and heaters. “I like going for unglamorous products and making them pleasurable to use,” says Dyson. It is during this process that new ideas are generated. “You try to solve one problem and in that process you might end up developing a solution for another, giving it a much better application,” says Dyson.
Another source of invention comes from the company’s stable of engineers, researchers and students who will independently work on developing a technology without an end use. “We don’t know what it’ll be used for,” says Dyson. “Sometimes the application will become apparent only many years later.”
How is the company investing in its future?
Dyson says there is a severe lack of engineers in England, where the company is based. (America too.) Fewer students are studying the subject or considering it as a profession. Most of the engineers in the country come from India, China or European countries outside the EU and the government makes it difficult for them to stay and work in the country. To that end, he’s taken several steps, personally lobbying the British government to support engineering students, subsidizing their education and raising their pay.
The company also funds the courses on design and technology in high schools and gives grants and scholarships for those studying and teaching engineering in universities.