Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Macintosh of Vacuums

In the spirit of reporting on technology, I feel compelled to report on the latest gadget to enter my home -- the DCO7. What is it, you might ask? A miniature rocket? A new USB device? This, my friends, is the most amazing vacuum cleaner I have ever used. I call it the Macintosh of Vacuums due to its elegant engineering, thoughtful design, and superior performance.

The product is made by Dyson, a British company founded by inventor James Dyson. His story, also described by Forbes, is compelling. His recent TV ads show him describing how he thought other vacuums didn't do a good job. 5,127 prototypes later, he invented the Dyson. He shopped his bag-less design to the major vacuum manufacturers, who passed on his technology. Dyson claims the manufacturers make $500 million per year selling bags, so they were not interested in ending that income stream by selling a bagless vacuum.

Once the manufacturers realized how good Dyson's system worked, they introduced their own inferior products and even tried to copy his patent-protected technology outright. Dyson won a patent infringement claim against Hoover. (This is the sort of use for which patents are appropriate, unlike software patents.) According to a Dyson press release describing Hoover's patent infringement guilt, "Hoover later admitted that they 'regret that Hoover as a company did not take the product off the shelf, take it off Dyson; it would have lain on the shelf and not have been used,' (Hoover’s Vice-President, Europe 1995)."

I had no idea how vacuums work until I learned about the Dyson. His insights make me wonder why anyone bothers buying products using inferior technology. Dyson knew that vacuum bags are porous to allow air to exit the bag as it draws up dirt from the ground. Like most people, he thought the vacuum lost suction once the bag filled with dirt. He observed, however, that the pores needed to maintain suction quickly become blocked, even with a barely filled bag. Blocked pores reduce suction, not a filled bag. Within minutes of using a normal bag vacuum, you've effectively lost the suction needed to remove dirt.

Dyson's product does use two filters, but the first need only be washed every six months, and the second has a lifetime warranty. Dyson's site claims "Dyson Root Cyclone technology uses 100,000G of centrifugal force in the cyclones to filter dust and remove dirt from the airflow efficiently. Because there is nothing to obstruct the airflow, it doesn't clog and doesn't lose suction." I'd like to see the calculation for the "g" rating, but the no-clogging feature appears genuine. The proof of its superiority came when I ran it through a room I had just cleaned with my old vacuum. The Dyson filled its cannister with dirt and dog hair missed by the old unit. You can see the hair culprit pictured above.

If you'd like to read more about Dyson, check out the reviews.


Anonymous said...

How the hell can you say that vacuum cleaner patents are more "appropriate" than software patents? Can you imagine how much work goes into developing software algorithms and systems? Or do you think that software just rains down from the sky?

Richard Bejtlich said...

Patents are a poor means to encourage software innovation. You might find CyberRegs by Bill Zoellick to be good reading on the subject.

Richard Bejtlich said...

This is an excellent article on software patents from 1991:

Why Patents Are Bad for Software.

Anonymous said...

This post is meant to be totally (well almost) tongue-in-cheek:

The Hoover Self Propelled Windtunnul picks up 56 % more dirt than Dyson. These results are based on ASTM International Test, F608, the only recognized test representing real-life conditions found in American homes.

Being an ex-pilot (if that is possible) I was also a little skeptical of his 'G' claim. I think your Air Force gadget roots have convinced you that anything that can generate that kind of force must be good. According to Hoover (not a foreign company) their product is better.

What do you have to say to that?

Richard Bejtlich said...

I agree that the G claim sounds silly. I am not aware of the Hoover test. I sure love my Dyson though. :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

>The Hoover Self Propelled Windtunnul picks up 56 % more dirt than Dyson. According to Hoover (not a foreign company) their product is better.

>What do you have to say to that?

Well, your roots are showing. Americans don't lie, eh? And if they are so good, how come Hoover stole all the Dyson patents and then settled for £4 million many years later after running out of appeals.
Dyson Bags £4m from Hoover (3/10/02)

Hoover has offered Dyson £4 million to settle the claim for damages following a ruling of the High Court (in October 2000) that Hoover’s Triple Vortex vacuum cleaner infringed Dyson’s Dual Cyclone patent. Dyson has accepted Hoover’s offer. This settlement is believed to be larger than any previous court award of damages in British patent case history. Dyson DCO8 vacuum

Dyson has accepted the offer in order to avoid a further protracted court hearing. In fact, as early as June 2000 Dyson had offered Hoover the opportunity to settle the claim for just over £1million, in order to avoid court proceedings. Hoover refused and there followed a lengthy trial which they lost, a costly appeal which they lost and a petition direct to the House of Lords for a further right of appeal which was thrown out.

“ When we discovered that Hoover had stolen one of our patents, we tried to settle the case to avoid this long and expensive three year court battle, but Hoover refused. So we were forced to defend our patent against Hoover’s infringement. Having developed new technology, it is important for Dyson to protect patented inventions and defend all patents.

The patent system can work. I hope it encourages inventors who have their ideas stolen by multinational companies to fight for their patent rights.” James Dyson.

Jack K said...

I sell vacuums for a big American company without a W or K in it's name. 3 out of five Dyson vacuums come back. The biggest bitch is that they are loud!

Anonymous said...

My Dyson DC14 completely outperforms the Eureka Worldvac I used previously except in one category: edge cleaning. The Eureka made more noise too.

The technology that Dyson uses makes intuitive sense. I can't compare to the newer bagless Hoovers.