Conversation with Dyson Chief Technology Officer John Churchill: Housework in the future will require less hands-on work and better not to do it at all

By 2024, we will hardly see any mobile phones imitating the iPhone in the smartphone market, but in the field of electrical appliances such as cordless vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and bladeless fans, we can still see a large number of products imitating one brand: Dai Sen.

Although "good design always has a heart", and it may not be difficult to imitate in appearance, it is not easy to imitate at the engineering level, especially when faced with someone like Dyson who has mastered motors, aerodynamics, For enterprises with many core technologies such as Cyclone.

There are always some things that others cannot imitate from Dyson.

Recently, we interviewed Dyson Chief Technology Officer John Churchill in Shanghai. We not only explored the core of Dyson that is difficult to imitate, but also learned how to do housework in the future.

New products and new technologies are always growth points for Dyson

When you open Dyson's official website, you will find a wide range of products, ranging from cleaning and dust removal, personal care to environmental appliances. There are more than ten specific products to choose from under each category.

Consumers who are familiar with Dyson products can easily know their specific features from Dyson's product names, such as the Dyson V12 Detect Slim cordless vacuum cleaner, which is positioned as a sub-flagship, has optical detection technology, and has a lightweight body; Dyson purifier humidify+cool formaldehyde is an air purifying bladeless fan that can remove formaldehyde and has humidification function. It can be said that Dyson's products highlight the word "hard", and everything they can do is written in the product name.

The hard-core naming of the products also reflects that Dyson’s strength lies in its continuously deepening core technology. As Chief Technology Officer John Churchill said:

The key to Dyson's leading innovation is airflow and suction performance.

You must know that motor speed and aerodynamic design cannot be enhanced by Internet thinking or writing code. They need to be developed and improved in the laboratory over and over again, and finally applied to specific products.

The dedication to technology is also reflected in investment in scientific research. The year 2023 that just passed was an important year for many companies to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The reason is naturally due to the pessimism about future expectations, but Dyson did the opposite and instead increased its investment in research and development by 40%.

John Churchill said:

Although there are certain challenges in the general environment, new products and new technologies have always been Dyson's growth point.

In order to better achieve growth through the development of new products, our engineers will focus more on specific areas.

Looking back on the past, Dyson has gradually developed from a company focusing on floor cleaning to a company that includes environmental care, robots, lighting, hair care, wearable devices and other products and categories. Our experience is (by focusing on the research and development of superior technologies) to find and Invest in new category opportunities while continuing to innovate in the category lines we have already developed.

Therefore, Dyson’s philosophy is to invest in engineers and technology to design truly unique products. This is our focus and a big bet.

In the face of uncertainty, you can choose to scale back, or you can choose to boldly invest in technology research and development – we have invested in multiple core technologies, such as the battery production base in Singapore, such as motors, and we believe that these technology investments can drive New innovations.

John Churchill takes Dyson's most powerful air purifier BP04 as an example: BP04 uses "conical airflow aggregation technology" to combine two airflows into one, so that it can eject a clean airflow up to 10 meters long and evenly purify 100 square meters. space, and the noise level is only 56 decibels when running at full power, making it suitable for both villas and large flats.

"It can achieve very quiet operation while having a high CADR (clean air delivery rate), which is due to our large R&D investment in aerodynamic technology." John Churchill concluded.

If the Dyson BP04 air purifier is "big and powerful", in some home cleaning equipment, Dyson has achieved "small, light and powerful". It is precisely because Dyson has many categories and detailed functional classifications that John Churchill can easily come up with corresponding examples.

For example, the Dyson V12 Detect Slim Nautik floor scrubbing vacuum cleaner achieves "vacuum + floor scrubbing" dry and wet all-round cleaning when the main unit weighs only 1.5 kilograms: it first uses optical detection technology and anti-winding technology to deal with invisible microorganisms. Remove dust and hair that is difficult to clean, and then finish with wet cleaning to achieve a three-step process.

Another product mentioned by John Churchill, although more niche, is more in line with the logic of "small, light, and strong":

We also launched the Supersonic r, a new model in our hair dryer range with a barrel diameter of only 38mm. The built-in motor is the key to making this product compact and lightweight. Currently, this product is only available to professionals (hairstylists with cosmetology licenses).

Professional hairstylists hold hair dryers all day long, so they value the small and lightweight nature of their products. I think the significant innovation of this product lies in the design concept of "miniaturization". If you want to flexibly operate a hair dryer like a hairstylist, the product itself needs to be lightweight and easy to control. This is what makes the shape and size of this product unique from other Supersonic hair dryers.

Regarding the Dyson vacuum cleaner robot 360 Vis Nav, which has just been launched in China, John Churchill emphasized:

When it comes to robots, what we value most is cleaning coverage. Why would you want a robot that doesn’t vacuum thoroughly and doesn’t fully cover your home? What reason do you have to reject a robot that can clean edges and penetrate deep into dead corners and gaps?

As engineers, we are trying to solve problems that really exist at home. On the other hand, since the types of floors used by homes in different countries and regions are also different, we spent a lot of time studying the floors commonly used in Chinese homes. We learned that Chinese homes use a lot of laminate floors, polished floors, and wooden floors. The floor, also has a lot of black marble. We hope that (Dyson’s robot products) can meet Chinese consumers’ expectations for efficient floor cleaning and truly solve the problem.

This is why Dyson launched a "vacuum" robot rather than a "sweeping" robot. It continues Dyson's strong strength in motors, and its significance is to provide strong suction, turning "sweeping" into real "vacuuming", thereby achieving efficient cleaning. Not only that, John Churchill also believes that another of its core competencies is "aerodynamics":

For us, the key is to use aerodynamics and HEPA filtration throughout the machine to capture and lock these dust firmly inside the machine to ensure that the released air is clean. This is also the basic principle of our airflow technology.

Dyson accelerates its approach to artificial intelligence

In the public’s past perception, Dyson’s products are often better than “hard”. Every move is a hard bridge and a hard horse, all relying on powerful motor performance and sophisticated aerodynamic technology. This is why it can be used handheld and cordless. It has set a benchmark in the field of vacuum cleaners because most of the "softness" is left to people.

This is why the vacuum robot released by Dyson this time looks very different within the Dyson system: it not only integrates the core technology of Dyson vacuum cleaners, but also has Dyson's intelligent thinking.

Although this vacuum cleaner robot is very compact, John Churchill emphasized that it still has large suction power and excellent aerodynamic technology, which firmly locks in dust and does not generate dust.

But at the intelligent level, Dyson’s thinking and practice have another path.

For example, Dyson’s new Supersonic Nural hair dryer uses the same sensing technology as the sweeping robot. John Churchill said:

At Dyson, we develop a robotics platform ourselves, including hardware and software.

This gives us a lot of engineering capabilities and allows us to look at different verticals. A good example is that some of the sensors we use on robots have begun to be used in hair care products, such as our use of smart distance sensors to help achieve scalp health. This is a testament to how engineering teams work together to develop different features and apply them to different products.

In addition, we have a lot of data in the cloud. Dyson’s connected products can provide a deeper understanding of the home environment, how dirty it really is, how we clean it and what’s in the air. These insights will drive future products and technologies.

The Dyson Supersonic Nural hair dryer is equipped with a distance sensor to detect the distance of dry hair in real time. The feedback data is used to automatically adjust the air temperature and automatically reduce the heating power when blowing hair quickly at close range to maintain a stable air temperature in contact with the scalp.

In the Dyson system, such artificial intelligence technology is like a chess game or Lego blocks, which can be pieced together. A hair dryer only needs one of the functions, while robots have a high demand for artificial intelligence technology and use more of them.

John Churchill said:

From a robotics perspective, we developed the Dyson robotics operating system, which allows us to achieve different functions. At the same time, the development of sensors and vision systems allows us to apply them to different products. We attach great importance to the visual system and hope to use the visual system to promote the intelligence of products. The orderly operation of the entire ecosystem, including hardware, software, cloud technology, and applications, is the key to our ability to achieve intelligence. Intelligence here means that we make the equipment that used to operate mechanically more adaptable and adapt to various Complex home environment.

In this operating system, all devices are automated and organized, and you can schedule tasks for them, talk to them through smart speakers, and conceive of new products and ideas through this ecosystem. For us, this is not a gimmick, but an idea that can really change people's lives, such as adjusting the vacuum performance based on the dust concentration, or adjusting the temperature based on the distance between the product and the person's head.

All of this bodes well for new product potential, and we already have some new categories and are applying these technologies to new products in these new categories, which is very exciting. Although I can't share what they are, you can imagine that we have a good understanding of the usage scenarios and situations of products, and what kind of products are truly smart. Our sensors can feed back product usage insights to engineers. Our engineers Can design products that are more independent, more flexible and diverse in function…

Dyson is not only accelerating its approach to artificial intelligence in its end products. In fact, in more front-end production and research and development, artificial intelligence technology has been integrated into the texture of Dyson's entire process.

During the interview, John Churchill specifically mentioned digital twin technology.

He said that in the real world, engineers can only create a small number of test environments, but in the virtual world, engineers can create thousands of test environments. For example, when developing robot navigation technology in a virtual world, the more physical elements are added, the more the robot sensors can adapt to the environment. This is just the tip of the iceberg of digital twin technology. "Now we use digital twin technology in products to simulate all the performance of the product, including mechanical properties, thermal properties, performance in the environment and how the product interacts."

As early as 2022, Dyson launched a VR experience store, where we can get a glimpse of the charm of digital twins.

In the virtual world, we can see how different air nozzles change the airflow of the hair dryer, and how the hair changes from straight to curly in the hair styler…

Of course, not all tests are conducted in a virtual environment. Real-world tests and data are the foundation of virtual testing. The comparison between virtual testing and real-life testing has changed Dyson’s R&D process:

This is the purpose of using artificial intelligence in the development process. I think Dyson will change the way we develop products, from the previous design, manufacturing, and testing to design, simulation, optimization, and comparative testing of the virtual world and the real world. This completely changes the approach to iterative development from incremental progress to working on multiple different elements in parallel, thereby accelerating the pace of innovation and providing a more personalized experience for users around the world.

The future of housework in Dyson’s eyes: less hands-on, no hands-on

Whether it is faster and faster motors, more sophisticated airflow, or artificial intelligence and robotics technology composed of various sensors, transmission structures and algorithms, Dyson sees them as tools in a toolbox, and ultimately they are all It is to meet the needs of users.

For example, artificial intelligence technology was added to the toolbox because Dyson saw the demand. In this regard, John Churchill also shared his insights:

We're seeing people busier and working harder than ever; we're also seeing an aging population and everyone wanting to spend time doing more leisure or health-related activities. Therefore, people value the value of time more than ever before. I believe that everyone hopes to have robots to help with trivial housework. This is true all over the world, especially in China. People hope that machines can help them complete trivial tasks at home.

Making the suction stronger is to reduce the time spent doing housework, making the weight lighter is to reduce the burden during housework, and adding sensors and tracks to the sweeping robot is to completely free your hands.

So the trend couldn't be more obvious. John Churchill summarized the future evolution direction of Dyson products like this:

The development direction of Dyson home technology will shift from developing individual products that perform a single task to developing more connected and integrated home solutions. Home is the harbor of health and happiness, and our products are currently helping to create a healthy and happy home by creating a clean and healthy home environment and presenting stunning (product designs). Looking to the future, with Dyson’s help, our homes will increasingly be able to take care of themselves. As a result, home becomes a place of relaxation rather than a place where people are burdened.

Now, with the development of artificial intelligence, cloud and applications, we can foresee a future where robots can do their own thing, clean your home and achieve self-cleaning without human involvement. We think this will be the ultimate s solution.

As mentioned before, Dyson’s product manufacturing style is “a hard bridge and a hard horse”, and there is no such thing as rushing a duck to the shelves. Therefore, in the history of Dyson, there are also some products that were invested in R&D and production but were eventually abandoned, such as washing machines and electric vehicles.

Although the washing machine can be regarded as a failed project, it helped Dyson understand "water" more deeply and provided experience for the development of other products. Now, in the bathrooms of many high-end shopping malls, the Dyson Airblade Wash + Dry hand dryer is standard equipment. It provides two functions of washing and drying hands.

As for the research and development of Dyson cars, it helped Dyson get out of the home environment and move outdoors. The research and inspiration of outdoor scenes undoubtedly gave Dyson the inspiration to move from indoors to outdoors and move into the wearable field.

In Dyson's laboratory, there is also a more futuristic product being developed: a housework robot.

As John Churchill said, the increasingly busy urban population and the aging trend have made housework a thorny problem. Housework robots with more autonomous capabilities may be the ultimate solution, and Dyson has also invested heavily in this field.

In 2022, when Dyson disclosed its robot research and development progress, he said that robotics is the core of Dyson's five-year plan to invest 2.75 billion pounds in new technologies and facilities. At that time, Dyson had recruited more than 2,000 talents around the world, of which engineers, scientists and programmers accounted for 50%.

In the disclosure video, Dyson highlighted the latest advances in object-grabbing robotic arms, as well as new research results in robot manipulation, robot learning, visual perception and compliant control.

Although we don’t know when Dyson’s housework robot will actually enter thousands of households, from a few minutes of video, we can get a glimpse of the future housework picture painted by Dyson: the robot grabs the dolls on the floor and returns them to their places, the robot grabs the meal Put the tray on the shelf, and the robot accesses the cleaning nozzle to clean the sofa…

At the same time, there is also a consistent connection between past research and development, current products and future robots: Dyson is always adding new tools to the toolbox, and Dyson’s products are the combination and combination of these tools. .

In the plastic greenhouse of fate, every cabbage that has been sprayed with too many pesticides once had a dream of becoming a pollution-free organic vegetable.

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