Robot vacuums suck – just not in the right way

“I’m not rushing out a gimmick robot” … James Dyson.Sir James Dyson, the British billionaire industrial designer who invented the dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, has derided today’s competing robot vacuums as “pathetic” with poor suction and no navigating skills.

In Sydney on Tuesday to launch his latest product, a tap that can also dry your hands in 12 seconds, Dyson, whose eponymous company has grown to nearly 4000 staff and $1.5 billion in annual sales, said he would only launch a robot vacuum when he got it right.

“When we do one we want it to clean properly,” he told Fairfax Media. “The present ones are pathetic with no suction at all – they just sweep with a rather feeble brush and they also don’t navigate they just bounce around.”

Robot models launched in Australia recently include the $399 Robomaid, LG’s Roboking range ($549-$1149) and Samsung’s $999 Navibot. Dyson didn’t name names but he was dismissive of the current lot, criticising their navigation and efficiency which meant they offered poor battery performance and cleaning ability.

“They’ve got whiskers sticking out of them – whiskers don’t clean anything they just disturb the birds,” he said.

“It’s a difficult job and I’m not rushing out a gimmick robot to pretend to people we’re cleaning the floor, we’re not doing that we’re doing it properly.”

Dyson, 65, said the most exciting trend in technology is the development of advanced new materials. He had a swipe at companies such as Google or Facebook who he believes aren’t really making things.

“Google … helps us but for me it isn’t a substantive exporting thing,” he said.

Despite coming up with his vacuum cleaner breakthrough in the late 1970s, it only reached the British market 10 years later, and Dyson is now a global market leader. A third of British homes now have a Dyson.

The company has also launched other innovations such as bladeless fans and an “Airblade” hand dryer that uses jets of air to scrape the water off the hands. The same sort of technology but with a far more advanced motor (“three times faster than any electric motor has gone before”) powers the new hybrid dryer-taps.

Dyson has fought for years to prevent companies copying his designs, winning a $5 million damages award from Hoover in 2000. Now, the problem is coming out of Asia and Dyson believes intellectual property protection is weaker because people are getting away with copying.

“Koreans and the Chinese are copying things and I think it’s very bad,” he said. “It’s said by certain people that that increases competition, actually it decreases competition because all they’re doing is copying the market leader.”

He said the copycat companies could produce cheaper products because they haven’t incurred all the development costs and associated risks.

“It’s morally wrong, I think it’s legally wrong and I think it hurts the consumers because the consumer doesn’t get a choice,” he said. “Intellectual property should be supported better; the law should be made stronger.”

In October last year Dyson filed a lawsuit alleging a “spy” employee stole the blueprints to a £100 million ($149.7 million) technology and passed them to rival Bosch.

Dyson said western countries such as Australia and Britain need to focus on educating more scientists and engineers, as they are increasingly being overtaken by countries in Asia.

“40 per cent of all graduates from Singapore are engineers,” he said. “For Britain, Australia, the US and other European countries to compete in any way they’ve got to heavily arm themselves with technology.”

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