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The one-man gizmo factory

James Dyson set the gold standard in vacuum cleaners

By Shoshana Berger
Business 2.0

Dyson's DC07 is the best-selling vacuum in western Europe.
Dyson's DC07 is the best-selling vacuum in western Europe.

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(Business 2.0) -- And now, something completely different. I went to hear James Dyson speak in San Francisco a few weeks ago.

Dyson invented the yellow and silver cyclonic vacuum cleaner that I reviewed in the November 2002 issue of Business 2.0. Rarely do I meet the mad scientist behind the machine, and Dyson's take-no-prisoners tale inspired me to once again plug the product (as well as his other domestic tech coming down the pipeline).

In the beginning...

Our story begins in England in 1978, when Dyson -- a self-employed industrial designer and occasional homemaker -- became frustrated with how quickly his vacuum's bag clogged up and lost suction. Like any inventor worth his salt, he took the thing apart and built a new model. That became the first of more than 5,000 prototype vacuums Dyson would churn out during the next five years, making three per day in his garage-turned-workshop. But when he finally tried to sell his eponymous vacuum to stores, no one in the Western Hemisphere would take it. Its fanciful color scheme (then purple and silver) and see-through collection chamber made Hoover loyalists flinch.

It was a Japanese company called Apex -- which had earlier imported the Filofax -- that finally bit, agreeing to manufacture, market, and distribute the first Dyson units for the equivalent of $2,000 apiece. Today the DC07 is the best-selling vacuum in western Europe, and Dyson products have captured nearly half of the floor-care market in the United Kingdom. Not bad for a guy who spent five years in his garage, supporting his family off a few small loans and the meager earnings from a wheelbarrow he'd invented years before.

Cyclone-like power

I can tell you firsthand, this vacuum really sucks. With 100,000 Gs of force powering the cyclone -- one mighty wind -- dust, hair, and dirt create a whirling dervish. There's nothing more satisfying than watching the filth you've been inhaling get spun into clumps like cotton candy. Because the Dyson is bagless, it never loses its suction, and when it's time to dump, you just pull the trigger over a wastebasket and the refuse falls out the bottom. Sayonara, dust bunnies! The DC07 cleans a rug so well you could picnic on it, and its tough construction -- from the same materials that go into crash helmets -- ensures that it will last for generations. Equally important: The Dyson is by far the coolest-looking cleaning appliance on the market.

The company is planning to push other miracle machines through the U.S. pipeline soon. Its washing machine is faster and more energy-efficient than most European models currently available, and there's a robotic vacuum in the works that has enough sensors and memory to power the MIT media lab.

Battling smart robots

Dyson promises that it will be so much smarter than the Roomba -- in terms of both its room mapping and its deliberate pattern cleaning -- there's little doubt it will capture the lion's share of that market before long.

With two dogs in full molting mode, my sister Dysons (yes, it is a verb) four times a week. Today, after a full-carpet press, she turned it off, marveled at its work, then bent down and kissed the thing.

Dyson DC07: $400; available at Dyson.com, Amazon.com, Target.com, Best Buy, and Sears.

For more personal technology news visit Business 2.0.


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