A Dyson engineer explains why the company spent $71 million and four years developing a high-tech hair dryer


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Hair dryers are everywhere. Bathrooms. Gym locker rooms. Open a drawer in your hotel room — boom, free hair dryer. It usually requires a lot to get me to really notice a hair dryer. But Dyson has succeeded, and all it took was $71 million and four years of development.

It’s a logical progression, really. Between its vacuum cleaners, bladeless fans and the hand dryer ominously known as the “Airblade,” which makes moisture wish it had never been condensated, the British company has really made a name for itself moving air around.

The new Dyson Supersonic applies that knowledge to the beauty category, filtered through the company’s strict quality control. That sort of focus on high-end engineering doesn’t come cheap — to Dyson or the consumer. When the Supersonic launches in September, it’ll run a cool (read: hot) $400.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the target audience. I get a pretty good dry from a towel or a brisk walk. I solicited a response from a long-haired colleague who was somewhat skeptical about the product’s ability to fully deliver on its pricey promise, but added that if it is indeed as silent as the company claims, there’s potential appeal for salons and mothers of small children. Librarians with damp hair might get on-board, as well.

dyson supersonic 2

Dyson’s long search for the hair-drying Holy Grail goes a ways toward explaining the premium price tag. As Tom Crawford, the Head of Product Development for New Categories told TechCrunch, “When Dyson goes into a new category, we always think about how we can make it better. Part of that challenge is making sure we invest in the right technology and testing to do so. The first part of this was to learn the science of hair. How to test it, how to make it repeatable, and then how to measure it. We built our own state of the art laboratory dedicated to investigating the science of hair.”

Dyson’s not messing around hair here. According to Crawford, the company spent a staggering £40,000 ($58,000) on hair tresses alone. “We carried out tests on a variety of real hair types in order to get a full understanding of its performance,” he explains. “A single hair tress costs between £12 and £20, depending on the length of hair we are using. On average, Dyson engineers used 40 hair tresses for every test — so that’s up to £780 a test and 640 inches of hair.”

That’s a lot of money for a lot of hair. But he insists that the space was long overdue for an overhaul.

“The traditional hair dryer design hasn’t changed in more than 60 years,” says Crawford. “Conventional hair dryers often have large motors, and because of their size they have to be put in the head of the machine. As a result, they can be bulky, and they can blast air at extreme temperatures, all with the risk of hair being sucked into the filter and being trapped. We created a Dyson digital motor V9 just for this machine.”

And sometimes a hair dryer isn’t a hair dryer. Hey, we wouldn’t have memory foam or freeze-dried ice cream if NASA weren’t so obsessed with going to the boring old moon.

“Dyson will always invest in new technologies, even when we aren’t sure of their application yet. Sometimes we see a bit of technology working in one application and wonder whether that might solve a problem in another,” explains Crawford.

“That’s exactly how our Airblade technology was born. Dyson engineers were exploring new ways to use our digital motor with an air knife — forcing high-speed air through minuscule apertures. It wasn’t working. But then one day, someone’s hands happened to be wet and the air knife dried them brilliantly. Our motor technology paired with other breakthrough technology has helped us create our very first hair dryer. Just imagine what it could create in five years.”

Whatever it is, wetness clearly doesn’t stand a chance.

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