British engineering group Dyson has unveiled Airblade Tap, a device that combines a high-speed hand dryer with hot and cold water outlets.
The Airblade Tap builds on the firm’s success with its existing standalone cold air hand driers, but is more expensive at £1,000 ($1,600).
Dyson’s founder, Sir James Dyson, said that the device offered long-term savings over hot air dryers and towels.
However, one expert said its appeal might be limited until its cost fell.
The machine consists of a unit placed underneath the sink containing a motor, an air filter and sound-silencing equipment; a pipe that carriers the water, electrics and air to the tap; and a stainless steel head unit from which the water flows and unheated air jets out at 430 mph (692 km/h).
Infrared sensors detect where the user’s hands are – if placed under the tap’s centre water comes out, if under its sides the air nozzles are triggered.
The firm said that the technology was protected by 110 granted patents with another 100 pending.
Dyson’s existing Airblade range – launched in 2006 – has proved a money spinner for the firm. It said that to date the hand dryers had been installed in more than 250,000 locations worldwide.
Although the minimalistic hybrid water-air tap head is the device’s signature feature, James Dyson said that the “secret” of the machine was its motor, which had taken seven years to develop.
It uses an electromagnetic field, rather than carbon brushes, to accelerate from standstill to up to 100,000 revolutions per minute within 0.7 seconds. That was about four times the number of revolutions per minute that motors its size typically produced, James Dyson said.
Software run off a built-in computer chip then makes about 6,000 adjustments a second to maintain optimum efficiency, and the unit is mounted on springs to prevent vibrations being passed on to the rest of the equipment.
The motor is guaranteed to last for five years, and the firm estimates over its lifetime it should be able to pump the equivalent amount of air needed to fill 26 million party balloons.
Companies such as Hyco, Warner Howard and Airdri make much cheaper hand driers – with basic units selling for between £50 ($80) and £80 ($125). But Sir James said his latest product offered advantages in the long run.
“If you had a hot air hand dryer you would have five times the [running] cost, and if you had paper towels you’d have 15 times the cost,” said James Dyson.
“So actually although the initial cost is expensive it saves you money and you use a lot less energy with it.”
James Dyson added that his firm would initially target the device at restaurants, hotels, airports and sports stadia, but added that he thought it ultimately “ought to be in everybody’s house” as it was more hygienic than using and re-using hand towels.
He confirmed that while the research and design of the new dryer had been carried out at the firm’s facility in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, UK, the company was going to build the taps at its new plant in Singapore.
Dyson began shifting production to Asia in 2002 when it announced it was cutting 800 jobs to build its vacuum cleaners in Malaysia. At the time the union Amicus – now known as Unite – condemned the move, accusing the firm of having “betrayed” British manufacturing.
But James Dyson said the past decade had proved the move had been justified.
“The problem for us is that all the components [involved] are made in the Far East,” he said.
“The important thing is that all the research and development is here in Britain… all our exports are done from Britain and all our tax is paid in Britain and we employ large amounts of people – 2,000 of them – down in Malmesbury.”
In addition to the Airblade Tap, Dyson is also refreshing its existing hand dryer range to take advantage of the new motor. The new machines will be made available in 37 countries.