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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Beyond the humble vacuum: how Dyson is expanding into AI and robotics

Dyson’s technology centre in Singapore is a multi-million playground for innovation and technological advancement

Dyson 360 Eye at the Dyson Singapore Technology Centre. Courtesy Dyson
Dyson 360 Eye at the Dyson Singapore Technology Centre. Courtesy Dyson

Picture this: in one lab engineers test how well a hair dryer works on real human hair; in another a robot vacuum cleaner navigates a maze of obstacles with ease; while in another sound-proofed acoustics chamber, multiple microphones test for noise.

Welcome to Dyson’s technology centre in Singapore, a $587 million playground for innovation and technological advancement that opened in February. The centre has placed the UK firm known for its vacuums firmly into the frontier areas of artificial intelligence and robotics.

Dyson is now spending a staggering $9 million a week in research and development and holds thousands of patents. But it’s not hard to see where the money goes. Take the acoustics chamber for example. The room is covered in absorptive wedges and when you stand inside it’s eerily silent. Microphones then trap the noise coming from its machines. Dyson says its “obsessive” about reducing the noise of their machines and this approach allowed them to make the Supersonic one of the quietest hairdryers in the world. Or take Dyson’s connected studio lab. Here is where Dyson is working on combining hardware with software, incorporating artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors and mobile apps.

The acoustics chamber at Dyson Singapore. The room is covered in absorptive wedges and microphones trap the noise coming from its machines. Dyson
The acoustics chamber at Dyson Singapore. The room is covered in absorptive wedges and microphones trap the noise coming from its machines. Dyson

At the heart of this is the 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner. Other robot vacuums blindly and randomly clean the floor. But this has a 360-degree camera and Dyson has developed algorithms to let the robot learn and decide which is the best way to clean a room. Motion capture technology as seen in films such as Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes also allows engineers to track the robot’s movement and improve navigation.

“Performance wise we’ve got it there in terms of how much dirt it picks up. But in terms of versatility – can it go upstairs; can it get under every single piece of furniture and all the nooks and crannies you could get into your handheld, these things cannot yet. These are going to change massively,” says Scott Maguire, global engineering director at Dyson.

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Their footprint in the Middle East is also increasing. Earlier this year, Dyson opened one of their “demo stores” in Dubai Mall – the first in the Middle East and Africa. There visitors can see and test products such as the Supersonic hairdryer, the Dyson V6 vacuum, along with their bladeless fans and air purifiers.

Dyson products do not come cheap. For example, take the Supersonic hair dryer. It may be the result of a $65 million investment in the science of hair but it will cost you a whopping Dh1,499. Or take the “Pure Cool” purifier. Dyson says it will remove 99.95 per cent of allergens and pollutants in the air but it will set you back about Dh2,199.

The 360 Eye isn’t available in the UAE yet but could the clearest example of how we might see AI and robots used in the home. Dyson is now moving beyond making simple hardware products and this week the company revealed it’s developing an electric car. Along with investing $1.9 billion dollars into future technology over the next four years, it’s safe to assume even more interesting developments are on the cards.