While the promise of jetpacks has yet to be delivered, engineers like Dyson's Head of New Product Innovation, Stephen Courtney, are inventing sophisticated machines that bring future-thinking technology to the home. His latest Dyson model, the DC65, is the product of relentless testing and provides a glimpse into how people like Stephen Courtney and the rest of the Dyson team will design the future.
Born to Tinker
Courtney's desire to build was fostered at a young age. "My dad is an engineer and together we spent a lot of time experimenting." They even developed a homemade swimming pool and boat to test a handmade scuba rebreathing apparatus. "Watching [him] every day, I ended up turning into a bit of a tinkerer myself."
At home Courtney learned to embrace creative solutions to complex problems, and in college, he discovered that he could tinker professionally. He set his sights on working for Dyson after a video screening in one of his courses. "I was in a design course and saw a video about James Dyson: he was all about bold, creative engineering, and making things work better. He spoke my language! So the natural thing to do was to go work for him."
Picking the Winning Dyson Team
Machines like the DC65 are the product of Dyson's engineering culture, which draws people who share Courtney's passion for innovation. "We put a massive emphasis on getting the right people," says Courtney, "and the traits that seem to be quite universal are a willingness to challenge convention, the persistence to keep trying in the face of initial failure, and an innate sense of perfectionism to ensure that whatever gets done gets done right." Note to anyone applying to a job at Dyson: make sure "innate sense of perfectionism" is at the top of your resume.
This mix of collaboration and ambition has created an environment that rewards fresh solutions, produces unique products on a grand scale, and has helped Dyson attract talented engineers. "What helps is we have a fairly flat structure, particularly among the engineers," says Courtney. "New recruits fresh out of university find themselves sketching alongside James Dyson on day one, borrowing his tools for model-making. Often, he'll be the first one to back them on their most off-the-wall ideas, but he'll also make sure that any testing of these ideas is done meticulously." Sounds like a pretty great boss even if you don't factor in his sophisticated British accent.
Courtney's team has become so valuable to Dyson that the engineers' influence reaches as far as the company's business decisions. "Dyson is a technology-driven company," explains Courtney, "lead engineers like myself inform much of the business strategy by being allowed to research and explore new possibilities that we feel would be successful."
Solving For Products
So once they've been selected to join the Dyson team, how does the process of designing a new product begin? Courtney fills us in: "We start by analyzing common problems – cordless vacuums that have no suck, noisy fans with spinning blades – and search for novel ways to solve them. We then build rigs and prototypes to test those theories, farfetched as they may be sometimes."
Not all of the prototypes that emerge end up working out — when designing his initial prototype vacuum founder James Dyson tested over five thousand iterations — but Courtney says, "it's actually more exciting when they don't and we discover something new – an unexpected result, or a different application of the technology we were initially working on." If at first you don't succeed, innovate again.
The DC65: Vacuum of the Future
Dyson's latest machine, the DC65, is more than another pretty invention, it's also the product of persistent testing and very close to Courtney's heart. "DC65 is a really interesting one because it was created specifically for the United States," he says. "We learned that while other vacuum manufacturers tout carpet performance, 75% of American homes actually have a mixture of carpets and hard floors. We designed this machine so it really packs a punch on carpets, but it doesn't stop there – it cleans better than any other vacuum across carpets and hard floors, all while still offering twice the suction of any other."
Suction is important, and not simply to keep your floors clean. For those with allergies or sensitivity to air composition, the DC65 is a savior. Courtney explains, "the DC65 features a completely sealed system, so no dirty air leaks out of the vacuum. The air coming out of the vacuum is actually cleaner than the air coming in, so it's great for those suffering from asthma or allergies. It has a self-adjusting soleplate on the cleanerhead, so suction is never lost moving between carpets and hard floors." A vacuum that purifies the air you breathe? Sounds like the future to me.
Under The Hood
The DC65 relies on two primary technologies: Radial Root Cyclone system and Ball Tech. While the vacuum is composed of dozens of systems and subsystems, it's these two technologies that distinguish the DC65 from other home cleaning machines. Both Radial Root Cyclone and Ball Tech are the results of over five thousand prototypical-iterations and years of testing.
Radial Root Cyclone
A typical vacuum pushes air through filters into bags, and over time, the vacuums lose suction as both the filters and the bags clog with dust and other particles. Dyson vacuums, however, are anything but typical. Instead, they employ Radial Root Cyclone technology, which uses centrifugal force to spin particles out of the air. To avoid losing airflow, the technology processes particles using a number of small cyclones. Courtney explains the design: "Small cyclones are arranged in a circle to save space and create the most efficient airflow for the best suction." The smaller the cyclone, the stronger the force, and the more particles extracted from the air.
Courtney says that the sealed system and internal cyclones prevent dust and other irritants from escaping the vacuum: "Rather than pushing [air] through bags that quickly clog, dust and dirt are put through incredibly powerful centrifugal forces and spun out of the air." It doesn't hurt that, in typically sleek Dyson fashion, you can watch this cyclone technology at work inside the belly of the DC65.
While Radial Root Cyclone promises superior suction, Ball Tech delivers serious functionality. According to Courtney, this patented technology "enables the vacuum to reach inconvenient and otherwise-ignored floor segments…so getting around the obstacles in your house is simple." While a typical vacuum has a few limited points of articulation, Ball Tech allows various components of the machine to pivot on the floor, performing complex movements to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. It also makes vacuuming more like playing with a toy than a chore.
Engineering The Future
As engineers like Courtney consider the future of their field, they never lose sight of the problems people face in the present. "Well-rounded engineers are not only good creators, but are sensitive and mindful of what problems need tackling. You can't separate strategy from technology," says Courtney.
A recent $420 million dollar investment has helped Dyson develop a 25-year pipeline for products that will utilize the next generation of home technology. Courtney says that the investment will help Dyson develop "new research and development laboratories, partnerships with leading universities on everything from materials research to robotics, plans to recruit more than 1,000 new engineers – it's safe to say we have plenty to look forward to."
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Dan Pattersonis a broadcast and digital journalist.