THERE ARE A FEW WAYS TO WORK WITH LONG, UNRULY HAIR, the bane of every stylish woman on earth. There’s the no-frills method of sleeping with damp hair twisted into braids, which gives you all-over waves by morning. There’s the curling iron, easy to use but likely to break or burn your locks. You could always fall back on your hairdresser, but if there’s one solution that’s quick and effective, it’s the Dyson AirWrap. Or, so we’re told.
The AirWrap is Dyson’s second attempt at beauty (it initiated with the Supersonic hairdryer, which fared better than the vacuum). All it took to develop this high-tech hair toy was six years, 642 prototypes and SGD$42.7 million in R&D.
What it is supposed to do is dry and style your hair with powerful jets of air in place of extreme heat. It employs the Coanda effect, the same phenomenon that creates aerodynamic lift in airplanes. This sounds whack, until you remember that chief engineer and founder James Dyson has spent at least 25 years successfully manipulating air flow. But as with anything, there’s a give and take. The AirWrap only works on damp hair, and depending on your hair type, you still may have to compensate with hairspray.
Here’s what went behind the Airwrap.
What’s Mount Fuji Got To Do With It?
The tricky thing about the Airwrap was getting it to work well (and consistently) across all climates and altitudes. And so, environmental chambers were built to emulate the temperature, humidity and pressure of cities from around the world. Mexico City was what they called the “worst case scenario”, being the most populated city with the highest altitude.
“We even sent someone to Mount Fuji to try it,” Alanis recalls. “I thought it was ludicrous, but that’s how deadlines work sometimes. You panic and you don’t think straight. But it worked!”
Crowning Glory Technology
Part of the challenge was to make sure the right technology and testing were invested in. And so, a state of the art laboratory was dedicated to investigating the science of hair.
“We analysed style retention, based on temperature, tension and time,” explains Veronica Alanis (pictured left), an advanced insights engineer. “We also tested for elasticity, meaning how much the hair would come back to its natural shape after a certain temperature. We made sure everything we did was representative of a real-life scenario, which hasn’t been the industry standard for a while.”
A River of Hair
Over 1,831 kilometres of hair were used — Asian, European, you name it — and tested in several lengths and bundles. The engineers also had to replicate the way people of different cultures would treat their hair. “There are so many habits to take note of,” she continues. “How do you create something so controlled and precise out of an action that’s so subjective and personal?”
But, $650 For A Hair Curler?
“There are 120 people working on motors alone, inventing new ways of creating airflow,” says Adriano Niro, head of Research, Design and Development, “that also goes into every single aspect… such as hair science and other elements of our research.
“We invest so much into our products, so that’s what you’re paying for.”
The engineers did whatever it took to stress the Airwrap. This meant blocking the inlet and outlet, adding broken chips of glass to it and doing whatever they could think of to create a scenario to break it. The result is that if it fails, it fails safely. You wouldn’t have to worry about wrong voltages — the device just won’t turn on.
A large team was needed to research and develop the many prototypes (642, to be exact). Billions were spent on motoring technology alone. That resulted in the V9 engine, the heart of the Airwrap. (Read: its V9 motor has an rpm of 110,000. That’s about five times faster than that of a Formula One engine.)
It helps that the engineers and scientists thrive on problem-solving and that James Dyson gives them freedom to build their own prototypes and test the rigs themselves. This keeps the spirit of innovation alive and encourages his people to look at things in a different way. This is why Dyson always manages to make the ordinary extraordinary, whether it’s something as simple as a vacuum or curling iron.
The Dyson AirWrap starts at S$649 and can be found at select stores like Tangs and Takashimaya. Visit here for more.