For once James Dyson has invented something without cutting-edge technology – a fan without blades. With an eye on the lucrative US market for air conditioning, the creator of the bagless vacuum cleaner is launching his bladeless fan on both sides of the Atlantic today.
Instead of pushing coolness around a room, the loop of the Dyson Air Multiplier “accelerates and amplifies” air, expelling 405 litres a second.
For Sir James, the Conservatives’ new technology tsar, the O-shaped product is another chance to build on his reputation as Britain’s foremost inventor and creates the possibility that homes may one day be entirely populated by gizmos developed by his team of 350 scientists in Wiltshire.
But it only came about by chance, the latest in a long series of accidents that have earned the entrepreneur a £560m fortune.
As he jetted off to the US for a promotional tour, the 62-year-old industrialist said: “We were developing the hand drier and we noticed that the blade of air that comes out at 400mph was dragging in a lot of air with it, creating a much greater airflow than was coming out of the blade.
“So it wasn’t much use a hand-drier but we thought it was a very interesting phenomenon... as an air mover, in other words a fan.”
A conventional fan blade had several disadvantages, he suggested. “Children rush up and try to put their fingers in it. Accidents occur. It’s very difficult to clean,” he continued. “But most important of all the blades give a buffeting when they come on. It’s uncomfortable and you don’t enjoy it.”
Dyson came to public attention in the 1990s when his vibrant multi-coloured vacuum cleaners became highly fashionable. Their revolutionary cyclonic technology, which creates mini-tornados in living rooms up and down the country, was also the result of happenstance.
The inventor noticed that a giant cyclone he had built to spray paint an earlier invention, the Ballbarrow, was collecting dust and knew from his “30 years of experience” that conventional vacuum cleaners lost suction as their bags filled. A cyclone was the answer.
Serendipity, the accidental discovery of fortunate things, was “really important,” said Sir James, who wants the Government and investment houses to channel more money towards industrial innovation.
He told The Independent in an interview: “The thing is to be conducting experiments, to be searching for technology, to be trying to do something. and often when you do that you do something unexpected in another field.
“And that happened with the hand-drier,” he added.
“We were doing some experiments with air blades [for vacuum cleaners] and it didn’t work as well as wanted it to but we found it scraped the water off hands absolutely brilliantly, rather than trying to evaporate the water. So that was serendipity, but we were working at something.
“And it was the case with the fan; it was a spin off from observing something that was useless for the hand-drier but had another application.”
Sir James said that he did discover new products while developing his fan but said he couldn’t talk about them.
He defended its £199 price tag, saying: “We would argue that a fan that delivers air that you don’t mind sitting in front of is much more ecological, healthier and more pleasant than the chest-chilling chill of air conditioning.
“You can buy a cheap plastic one for less than that but those chromium ones are actually more expensive,” he said.