The Third Leader: Invention corner

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The Independent Online

History shows that great engineers have overcome many obstacles in their path. Stephenson, Bazalgette, De Lesseps: setbacks and scorn are as much a feature as tributes and triumph. And so it is, one feels, with Mr James Dyson of the bagless vacuum cleaner, who, despite comparing his success overseas to that of the Beatles, has never quite secured unqualified praise at home.

Several reasons suggest themselves: people have been known to complain that his cleaners, though innovative and stylish, don't seem always to work as well as they might for the money; they have also had problems with a champion of British manufacturing moving his to Malaysia.

Even his current campaign, backed by £12.5m of his own money, to boost native engineering by opening a school for it in Bath, has received a somewhat dusty response because it involves knocking down a Victorian factory.

Although keen to defend energy and imagination, I wonder if there is not a deeper problem. Fired to read that Mr Dyson was unveiling a new invention, I was disappointed to discover it was a high-speed hand drier for public conveniences. Call me naive and romantic, but will this fulfil Mr Dyson's aim of inspiring a new generation of engineers "to follow in the footsteps of Isambard Kingdom Brunel"?

True, washing hands is important. But I think Mr Dyson should go for something a little more, well, exciting. Couldn't the drier, for instance, whistle jaunty tunes? How about a ride-on vacuum, wind-powered, rapidly rotating feather duster or remote-controlled wheelie bin? Back to the drawing board!