With his company's various cyclonic gizmos — track-ball vacuum cleaners and wall-mounted hand dryers and the like — industrial designer and inventor James Dyson has emerged as the people's aerodynamicist, a tamer of vortexes and laminar flow, the Edison of air.
Familiar to American consumers from his role as company pitchman, the handsome and terribly rich Englishman is probably best known for the company's "dual cyclone" upright vacuum, in which Dyson takes evident pride.
That's too bad because, in my opinion, it's a wretched eyesore, a vaguely Gatling-gun-looking device made of Nerf gun plastic, available in a variety of colors, all hideous. Actually, from a design perspective, there isn't a vacuum on the market that can touch my old Electrolux.
But with Dyson's new Air Multiplier — a high-tech reimagining of the common household fan that seems to charm a breeze out of empty space — the man has secured a place in whatever industrial design museum you care to name. It functions beautifully and looks great too.
You, of course, want to know how it works. The base of the unit contains a high-power fan — an impeller, technically. Pressurized air is then forced through a circular 1.3 millimeter slit at the back edge of the device's distinctive hoop. This structure is essentially an annular wing, or barrel-shaped airfoil. As the jet of air flows over the inner diameter, it accelerates across the surface, then begins to tumble into wafts of pillowy turbulence. This accelerated cylinder "entrains" surrounding air so that the volume of air that's ultimately moved is 15 times the volume originally moved by the impeller.
There are many things about the Air Multiplier that are delightful. First, the personal electric fan has remained relatively unchanged since the late 19th century, and before that you'd have to go back to the Hittites, slaves and palm fronds. You have to give Dyson full marks for so boldly reconceptualizing something so familiar and functional. This is the proverbial better mousetrap.
Second, you just know some little kid, marveling over the mysteries of applied fluid dynamics, will eventually become a great physicist all because his folks put an Air Multiplier in his nursery.
And speaking of little kids, which I have, point No. 3: There is no way little fingers or tongues can get diced up in the Dyson fan.
The Air Multiplier does all the usual fan tricks. It oscillates 90 degrees on its swiveling base, as well as tilts up and down through a range of about 30 degrees. A variable speed knob allows users to select airflow volume, anything between gentle breeze and kite weather.
But let's not kid ourselves. The Dyson Air Multiplier is not so superior that people would spend $300 or more just to keep cool. No, people will buy it to be cool.
Here too it can help, because the thing is simply lovely: futuristic, sleek, vaguely enigmatic. The 12-inch model I tested ($329) had the dark charcoal-colored plastic housing (also available in white and silver) with a buff cobalt finish on the airfoil surface. My only tweak to the design might be to find a way to dial a couple of decibels out of the turbine's operation. That said, the device I tested was a preproduction unit; the units just hitting store shelves now might be a little quieter.
Dyson famously resigned from the board of the Design Museum in London in 2004, accusing the museum of becoming a "style showcase" — horrors, eh? Apparently, he's very much a function-form kind of designer. Frankly, I've thought the eponymous vacuums were a little silly with form and a little light on function. But the Air Multiplier has made me — dare I say it? — a fan.