by Christina Peden

21 years ago, James Dyson launched the world’s first cyclonic vacuum cleaner. 18 months after going to market, it was the bestselling vacuum cleaner in the UK.

These days, Dyson is still best known for its vacuum cleaners, along with those spectacular blink-and-you’re-finished Airblade hand dryers. In honour of its 21 st anniversary, Dyson has given us the inside scoop on three inventions that didn’t make the cut, and they may not be what you’d expect from the well-known vacuum company.

1. Diesel Trap (X007)
In 1997, Dyson began investigating whether the same cyclones used in their vacuum cleaners to filter dust particles could also be applied to diesel engines to help clean the air. After testing numerous prototypes, Dyson engineers found that cyclones consumed too much energy, and eventually moved on to the use of electrostatics. The final system used an electrical charge to ionize and collect diesel particles, which were then burned off in an oxygen-rich environment.

Unfortunately, automotive manufacturers weren’t interested in the technology and turned to ceramic filters instead, so the Diesel Trap went the way of the dinosaur.

2.Dyson Halo  (N066)

In 2001, Dyson started work on an augmented reality headset (given the secret code name N066) featuring a full color 3D display (not exactly what you’d expect from a vacuum cleaner company, is it?). The N066 was essentially a portable, head-mounted, wearable computer that worked as both a communications device and a PC. A few specs:
  • The headset created the illusion of a projected, translucent 10-inch display in front of the user. A virtual assistant (like Apple’s Siri) could read out emails and interpret simple voice commands.
  • The wearable computer could be detached from the headset and docked to a monitor to become a desktop computer, similar to the effect of plugging in a laptop to a TV.
  • The controller could be worn around the user’s wrist like a watch; similar to the ones nestled in laptop keyboards, to move the virtual cursor across the display.

The N066 project was eventually put on hold so engineers could focus on expanding Dyson’s technology in the US.

3. The Dyson Fuel Cell 

For three years, engineers worked to adapt a Dyson digital motor so it could sit at the heart of a fuel cell in order to increase performance and reduce size. The results were impressive:  the final prototype was able to increase power density and improve efficiency by 20%, and the start-up time was almost 3 times faster.

This is one invention that isn’t completely dead — engineers are currently exploring other possibilities for using the fuel cell in future innovations.

Dyson currently has 2000 engineers and scientists working on a pipeline of technology that stretches out over the next twenty-five years, so don’t be surprised if you see some unexpected innovations come out of the renowned vacuum cleaner company going forward.