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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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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