Dyson gets weird, mashing a wearable air purifier with headphones
After six years of development and hundreds of prototypes Dyson has finally launched its first foray into the wearable market, unveiling one of the weirdest products we’ve seen in a long time. Called The Zone, Dyson has combined noise-cancelling headphones with a built-in air-purifier.
The name Dyson can confidently be associated with powerful vacuum cleaners and, more recently, impressively effective bladeless air purifiers, but this newly launched product shows the company ambitiously stepping into the world of headphones and wearables. It is tempting to look at this odd new product as a way to cash in on pandemic-related anxieties surrounding clear air, but Dyson has actually been working on this for several years with a primary focus on helping people avoid urban air pollution.
“Air pollution is a global problem – it affects us everywhere we go,” said Jake Dyson, chief engineer. “In our homes, at school, at work and as we travel, whether on foot, on a bike or by public or private transport. The Dyson Zone purifies the air you breathe on the move. And unlike face masks, it delivers a plume of fresh air without touching your face, using high-performance filters and two miniaturized air pumps. After six years in development, we’re excited to deliver pure air and pure audio, anywhere.”
A couple of years ago, Dyson filed a patent revealing an early iteration of The Zone, a strange fusion of noise-cancelling headphones and an air-purifier that can be strapped to you face. At the time we at New Atlas was pretty skeptical this thing would see the light of day but here we are in 2022 and a real, commercial product is about to become available.
The Zone is basically a set of Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones with a "visor" that sits over a wearer’s nose and mouth shooting jets of purified air. Compressors built into the earcups suck in surrounding air, filtering out allergens and particles as small as 0.1 microns.
Alongside four air purification modes (low, medium, high and auto), the headphones feature three noise-cancellation settings. Isolation mode is the strongest, designed to block out all environmental noise. Transparency mode feeds in some external sounds to keep a wearer aware of loudspeaker announcements or emergency sirens. And Conversation mode automatically switches on when the air-purifying visor is dropped away from a wearer’s mouth, switching off air purification systems and amplifying conversation.
Plenty of details surrounding The Zone are still unclear, such as how long the device lasts on a single battery charge and how much it all weighs. However, Dyson said the product is ready to go and should be commercially available over the coming months. How much it will cost has yet to be announced but it is unlikely this kind of tech will come cheap.
Dyson is certainly not the first company to try and develop a wearable air purifier. Within months of the pandemic kicking off in 2020, electronics giant LG quickly produced a wearable face mask version of its PuriCare air purification system. Other more tech-heavy face masks subsequently appeared including a cyberpunk device from gaming company Razer.
The closest to something like Dyson’s Zone is a device from Biotlab called the Air-Ring. That weird sci-fi-like system is packed with LED lights and drapes around your neck. The Air-Ring has yet to move beyond prototype phases.
Dyson is cautious to avoid presenting The Zone as a device that can protect against COVID-19. A brief mention in the product announcement suggests a FFP2-compliant face covering will be available to potentially seal off the device but there is no indication as to what that would look like.
As a product designed to be worn by people out and about, The Zone presents some problems from a public health perspective. Shooting jets of air at the mouth can offer the wearer a direct source of fresh air, but the system may also lead to the excessive generation of aerosols that are exhaled by the user spraying outward from the device. One commentator comically described The Zone as a “Wearable Superspreader Event” and a “significant danger to public health”.
Besides any potential public health concerns, it is unclear if there is any demand for such a weird-looking device in the first place. Despite the clever engineering from Dyson, packing an incredible array of tech into a small device, only time will tell if people actually want to buy and use a product like this.