You probably know Dyson for their vacuums, or maybe that too-powerful dryer you’ve tentatively stuck your hands in while waiting for a flight. Maybe you’ve seen their hair dryers or fans. Dyson is a company that develops premium products that move air around. Basically, if they don’t suck, they blow.
Recently, the firm expanded with a very strange face-mounted air purifier. While showcasing the product, Dyson took pains to highlight some of the research behind it. It offered a peek into their labs, providing some insight into a future of products that expand well beyond premium vacuum cleaners. Turns out that includes robots.
Today at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Philadelphia, Dyson revealed “secret robot prototypes” that are part of broader research it’s managed to keep a tight lid on thus far. The reveal included some shots of a robot arm that looks fairly similar to smaller industrial models from companies like ABB.
On the face of it, the big difference here is the attachments. This includes a hand with soft graspers that look an awful lot like a human hand and, naturally, a vacuum attachment. As the firm notes, the robotic stuff doesn’t come out of nowhere, exactly — a surprising amount of vision processing, AI and autonomy go into something like a robot vacuum. But from a purely investment standpoint, this could be much more than simple baby steps.
I’m always a little wary of these pivots/expansions. Some, like Toyota’s work with TRI, are thoughtful and deliberate, while others, like Samsung’s robotics efforts, appear to be more for show. For Dyson’s part, it says it has been refitting an aircraft hangar at Hullavington Airfield, a former RAF station in Chippenham, Wiltshire, in England that the company purchased back in 2016. It’s set to move some 250 roboticists over to the new lab.
In a related press release the company notes:
Dyson is halfway through the largest engineering recruitment drive in its history. Two thousand people have joined the tech company this year, of which 50% are engineers, scientists, and coders. Dyson is supercharging its robotics ambitions, recruiting 250 robotics engineers across disciplines including computer vision, machine learning, sensors and mechatronics, and expects to hire 700 more in the robotics field over the next five years. The master plan: to create the UK’s largest, most advanced, robotics center at Hullavington Airfield and to bring the technology into our homes by the end of the decade.
More soon, one hopes.