Dyson — the British company famous for its vacuum cleaners and Air Multiplier fans — has invested almost $95 million, enlisted 103 engineers, built 600 prototypes, and has over 100 patents pending, all into the creation of a hairdryer.
It's one of those things that doesn't seem to make sense — and then, suddenly, it does. And it's not just because vacuum cleaners were once the only option for drying hair.
It turns out the design of the hairdryer hasn't changed much since its first re-invention for household use in the early 1900's. The brains behind the brand, Sir James Dyson, is a man known for finding a problem to fix — and the modern hairdryer presented one such problem.
Imagine a gadget that is loud, bulky and difficult to manoeuvre. You are pointing it at your head while it blasts your scalp and hair with high temperatures, treading the fine line between shiny locks and extreme heat damage. Oh, and at any moment your hair can be sucked into the filter, breaking and knotting it.
Don't you reckon the humble hairdryer deserves a rethink? Sir James Dyson certainly did. And the result is the Dyson Supersonic.
Today in Tokyo, James Dyson announced what he affectionately calls "his baby" — the Supersonic is a project he has been working on for four years now.
Using the Air Multiplier technology found in Dyson's fans, the volume of the air drawn into the Supersonic's motor is amplified by three, producing a high pressure, high velocity jet of air. This is the basic minimum requirement you'd expect from a Dyson hairdryer. So of course, it goes much, much further.
The Supersonic is engineered for balance in the hand, is quiet and intelligently controls the temperature to help protect hair from extreme heat damage.
"Hair dryers can be heavy, inefficient and make a racket," Sir James said today. "By looking at them further we realised that they can also cause extreme heat damage to hair. I challenged Dyson engineers to really understand the science of hair and develop our version of a hair dryer, which we think solves these problems."
The research that Dyson has made into the development of the Supersonic includes a laboratory dedicated to investigating the science of hair. Dyson engineers studied hair from root to tip, understanding how it reacts to stresses, how to keep it healthy and how to style it.
Since 2012 the company has tested the product on different hair types and built test rigs, which mechanically simulate hair-drying techniques — which can differ around the world. To date, over 1010 miles of real human hair have been used in testing.
The one commonality behind all Dyson products, be they for the pulling or pushing of air for different purposes, is the care taken with developing the motor. The Supersonic's digital motor V9 was created in-house by a team of over 15 motor engineers specifically for this machine. It is Dyson's smallest, lightest, most advanced digital motor.
Most hairdryers situate the motor in the head of the machine, and this contributes to the lack of balance an maneuverability in the hand. The digital motor developed for the Supersonic is engineered to be powerful yet compact, it is small enough to be positioned in the handle rather than the head; because of this the machine is engineered for balance.
Heat damage is something the hair care industry has developed thousands of products to combat — from ceramic plating on styling tools to protective serums and creams. None really address the root cause of the problem though, which is the high temperatures these styling tools reach, and the fact they are coming in direct contact with your hair.
This was a problem Dyson was keen to solve. The result? 20 times a second, the Supersonic measures its temperature output, transmitting data to a microprocessor which in turn controls the heating element, avoiding the risk of burns and heat damage.
So that's handling, airflow and heat damage sorted — what about the noise factor? Enter Dyson's team of aero-acoustic engineers. By using an axial flow impeller inside the motor, engineers simplified the pathway of the air — reducing turbulence and swirling, and by putting the motor in the handle they have muffled the noise considerably.
The motor impeller has 13 blades instead of the usual 11. This doesn't mean a whole lot until you realise this means Dyson engineers have pushed one tone within the motor to a sound frequency beyond the audible range for humans. You just can't hear it — although it might annoy your dog.
As well as multiple setting to control heat and airflow, the Supersonic comes with a variety of attachments — which are magnetic (easy to attach) and sandwich the hot air between layers of cool air (making them cool to the touch).
A smoothing nozzle dries hair gently, using smooth, wide air, allowing you to dry and style at the same time, and a diffuser engineered to disperse air evenly around each curl, simulating natural drying, helping to reduce frizz and improve definition.
So it not only aims to solve common problems with current hairdryers, the Supersonic aims to improve — in no small way — the way you style your hair using heavily researched, scientific solutions.
Although launching in Japan today, the Supersonic won't be available in Australia until the end of the year, with local pricing to be announced.
Rae Johnston travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Dyson.