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More than hot air? Inside a Supersonic hair dryer.

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Take 100 engineers, 600 prototypes, 100 patents pending and half a billion rand in motor technology, and you get a hair dryer from the future, writes TIANA CLINE.

A heater, a motor and pushing out some airflow – making a hair dryer sounds quite simple. Yet, most of today’s technology innovation in this space seems to revolve around LCD displays and Nano ionizers. And then James Dyson put forward a challenge: How quiet could Dyson’s team of engineers make a hair dryer?

About 1600 kilometres of hair testing later, the Dyson Supersonic has hit South African shores (and tresses).

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“Hair dryers haven’t changed much since the 1960s,” laughs Brett Coulton, Dyson’s Design Manager in New Product Innovation. “We were initially looking to create a super silent hair dryer, that’s how it all started. But we also wanted to make it the most powerful that we could.”

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James Dyson has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in digital motors. Dyson has been making digital motors for the better part of 20 years. But it’s not about micro-scaling the architecture; the goal is to help the motors team define what they’re trying to get out of a product.

The V9 is Dyson’s smallest digital motor to date, specifically built for the Supersonic. Every millimetre counts.

“When we started, the motor was 40ml in diameter and now we’re down to 28.6ml. The whole purpose was to push for the motor to get into the handle. All the light weight components are at the top. The motor is both smaller and lighter than conventional hair dryer motors, which are top-heavy- which also makes the hair dryer heavier on the arm. We were constantly trying to push for the diameter to be reduced, which is why, now, our motor is the size it is. It all fits into the Supersonic’s handle, which feels comfortable in most hands.”

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Brett Coulton, Dyson’s Design Manager in New Product Innovation

The V9 spins at 110 000 revolutions a minute, generating high pressure air. That’s five times faster than a Formula One engine (and yes, we’re still talking about a hair dryer here). It’s also six times faster than a conventional hair dryer, at one inaudible frequency, yet is a third of the weight.

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“The good thing about high pressure air is that you can squeeze it into really small spaces,” says Coulton. “It’s an incredibly dense and compact design and the high-pressure motor allows us to push air into an annulus, based on our air multiplier technology. The extra pressure on one end allows the motor to be smaller in the handle.”

The flow has been designed to be as concentrated and laminar or consistent as possible – it comes out at a 20-degree angle. Inside the Supersonic’s head, you’ll find a heater and thermistor. The thermistor – essentially a tiny glass bead – is connected to a microprocessor. The two, through wires which run down the handle, measure exit temperature 20 times every second, and report it straight to the microprocessor.

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“No matter how you restrict the flow, the Supersonic manages to keep a constant temperature. We know from testing that, if you exceed 150 degrees, you start getting irreversible damage to hair. With thermistor technology, that’s never going to happen.”

Most hair dryers don’t offer this level of control. But then again, the creation of Dyson’s Supersonic took 100 engineers, 600 prototypes, 100 patents pending (16 on the attachments themselves) and half a billion rand in motor technology.

“Four years ago, Supersonic was double-handled. We found that the digital motor was spinning so fast that, if you had a silencer at either end, you could keep it very quiet. That said, it wasn’t nice to use and it didn’t look great,” recalls Coulton.

“We started from scratch and some of the things we did to make it quiet was changing the motor. We could give the same level of performance using 11 blades, but we added two extra blades, which takes the frequency that the motor produces to an inaudible range of the human ear.”

Unsurprisingly, Dyson has a semi anechoic chamber – an echo-less, sound proof area – at their lab. They set the product up in the middle to test the hair dryer and pick points in the design which are noisier. The Supersonic has 25 bits of foam strategically placed inside the handle.

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“Every little bit counts! A rubber mount takes away any form of vibration or noise from the motor. Tiny little rubber pips mean there is minimal contact with the motor and casing.”

The Dyson Supersonic is the result of a $65 million investment in the science of hair: during the development, Dyson engineers studied hair from root to tip, understanding how it reacts to stresses, how to keep it healthy and how to style it.

“We’ve got laboratories that just deal with how we look at hair, we’ve got electron microscopes, tensile testing machines.. it’s been a real learning curve, but a good one.”

* Tiana Cline is a freelance content writer, technology journalist and digital strategist. She likes cats, data science, long-form and violent video games. 

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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