Dyson defies physics with latest engineering challenge

20 Jan 2012

A cross section of Dyson's patented Ball technology, which features in the inventor's first-ever cylinder vacuum cleaners, the DC38 and D39

Celebrated UK inventor James Dyson has overcome an engineering challenge he set for himself – cramming more than 100 components into a ball cylinder vacuum cleaner – a feat he achieved with a team of 70 engineers.

You see, we’re so focused on the virtual and social worlds that we sometimes forget the physical challenges of technology. This is something the late Steve Jobs of Apple became virtuoso at, from the engineering challenges of the Macintosh personal computer in the early 1980s to breakthroughs like the iPod, iPhone and iPad in recent years. He cared deeply about what was inside and not just external appearances of hardware. And, as Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt reminded Siliconrepublic.com last week, the digital revolution is still keeping pace with Moore’s Law.

What British engineer and inventor James Dyson has done is make things as seemingly mundane as vacuuming or heating a room not just sexy, but breakthroughs in actual physics.

The company yesterday unleashed its first cylinder vacuum cleaners – the DC38 and the DC39 animal – with trademarked ‘Ball’ technology that bring racing-car dynamics to the task of cleaning carpets and hardwood floors and physically avoiding getting snagged on corners. They are ergonomically designed to manoeuvre and follow you around with the minimum of physical exertion.

A Dyson spokesperson explained this is relevant in markets like Ireland and mainland Europe, where up to 80pc of vacuum cleaners are cylinder machines. Dyson’s previous vacuum marvels were upright or handheld machines.

The new machines are equipped with Dyson’s radial Root Cyclone technology that capture more microscopic dust than any other cyclone. Every angle of each airway is honed to ensure microscopic particles – as tiny as 0.5 microns or 1/5,000th of a pin head – are spun out of the airflow and captured in the bin.

Thriving on engineering challenges

A team of 70 Dyson engineers worked to pack more technology into the ball than previously thought possible by housing valves and ducting within the ball.

Dyson himself described the engineering feat. “We thrive on engineering challenges, and our first Dyson Ball cylinder posed quite a few – cramming over 100 components into the ball itself, compressing the airways, concealing the motor and ducting, and devising a new steering mechanism.

“We’ve miniaturised the technology to deliver our most manoeuvrable cylinder vacuum yet.”

It is understood that more than 500 prototypes of the DC39 were developed. The DC39 has 112 components crammed inside the ball, including the motor, ducting and 6.5m of cable.

There are 106 patents and 117 patents related to the technology used in the Ball vacuum. An additional 39 patent applications and 18 registered design applications have been filed for the new machines.DC38

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years