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James Dyson and the bright future of hand-washing
The billionaire vacuum inventor has a new faucet that will wet your hands — then dry them in seconds
 
The inventor explains his revolutionary faucet.
The inventor explains his revolutionary faucet. Facebook.com/Dyson

If you had to come up with a motto for Sir James Dyson, it might be this: I want to fix things you don't think need fixing. The British inventor's re-imagining of the stodgy old vacuum cleaner made him a billionaire, but it didn't convince him to rest on his laurels — or giant piles of cash. Dyson's company has come up with a bladeless fan, a commercial Airblade hand dryer, and other new takes on old standbys. His latest project, unveiled Monday, takes on yet another prosaic household object, the bathroom sink faucet, and it's an exciting enough reworking that even tech bloggers are stoked about an implement more often left to design sites or hardware catalogs. What's so special about a faucet? The Dyson Airblade Tap washes and dries your hands without you having to touch a single thing. (Watch a video demonstration below.)

"The Airblade Tap will change the lives of anyone who goes to the bathroom," says Sam Biddle at Gizmodo. A new, compact motor inside the faucet is "so powerful I'm afraid to use it," whirring at 92,000 revolutions per minute to spit out a sheet of filtered cool air at 420 miles per hour. Who knew "a hand dryer [could] be cool"? Dyson says it will scrape the water off your hands in 12-14 seconds, and in our trial, the faucet "was much easier to use than we thought," says Samantha Murphy at Mashable. "Unlike some sensor-based sinks, which make you wave your hands under a few times before it registers, the Airblade Tap easily recognized when hands were centered for washing and off to the side for drying."

Developing this new way to wash and dry hands didn't come cheap. It took 125 Dyson engineers seven years and some $42 million to build the new motor, then two-and-a-half years — plus hundreds of prototypes — to design and perfect the faucet. All told, Dyson spent about $65 million to develop the Airblade Tap and two new Airblade wall-mounted models. Buying one of the faucets won't be cheap, either: They will retail at more than $1,500 apiece.

Not everyone's blown away by Dyson's latest offering. "The agony of walking with dripping hands from a sink to a hand dryer or towel dispenser might seem like the ultimate first world problem," says Charles Arthur at Britain's The Guardian. And while Dyson "thinks it needs fixing," for those hoping that he "would revolutionize the home once more," a new faucet may not fit the bill. Dyson seems offended at such criticism: "We have a digital electronic motor in this which spins at 100,000 rpm, three times faster than any rival's. What kind of revolution do you want?"

Well, "forgive me if I'm a bit disappointed that the three new products are all new hand dryers — a category that Dyson has already vastly improved," says Caleb Melby at Forbes. The British über-inventor "has managed to reintroduce some sexy into the droll, quotidian appliances that fill our lives," and even a "pretty cool" faucet is sort of underwhelming. Still, this "'problem' of splashed water on the bathroom door" is "exactly the sort of minor inefficiency that perfectionist and clean-fanatic James Dyson would want to fix."

It's a bigger leap than that, Airblade Tap team leader Marcus Hartley tells Gizmodo. This is "the next game changer for us." The original Airblade has changed how people dry their hands in public restrooms.

The Tap moves us into a different area. Specifically, it makes architects think differently. At the moment, they have to design wash rooms around stainless or glass or mirrored splashbacks. With the Tap, you can make your wash rooms smaller, for example, because you don't have to move around as much. You do everything in a confined space. It's a risk for us. We don't know how people are going to react to it. [Gizmodo]

ABC News' Tina Trinh, for one, is excited. "One of my biggest pet peeves has got to be hand dryers in public restrooms," she says. "For starters, there's never enough of them and if you don't manage to get to one right away, you're standing there, wet hands dripping, awkwardly waiting your turn." Most people, instead of waiting, just wipe their hands on their pants or use paper towels. With all the extra space the Airblade Tap will save, "maybe womens' washrooms will at last get enough cubicles to go round," adds Emma Woollacott at TG Daily.

"Dyson, like most inventors and entrepreneurs, always seems to be looking for the next deal," says the Irish Independent. And there's no telling if this one will be a hit or a miss.

But that's part of the fun of it. Few people would argue that the Dyson vacuum cleaner hasn't been a roaring success, for example, and the "airblade" dryers looked bizarre when they first appeared five years ago. Now they are de rigeur in many bathrooms. If the tap dryer is a success, Mr. Dyson will likely carry on looking for new inventions, and if it bombs, he will probably do the same. That's the thing about people like him — it's the chase that matters. [Irish Independent]

 

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