In a lingering-pandemic world, we’ve already seen a few outside-the-box products aiming to keep users safer and breathing easier while out in the wild. Most of them, such as the trendy astronaut-style helmet designs that popped up at the height of COVID, didn’t prove all that popular or practical in the end.
But now Dyson, the company best known for making excellent vacuum cleaners and well-designed air purifiers, is throwing its hat (headphones?) into the proverbial personal safety tech ring with an ingenious new device: the Dyson Zone. It effectively serves as a personal air purifier that goes with you wherever you are. It also looks like a bit like a piece of wearable tech ripped from the world of Minority Report, with Bluetooth headphones built into the headgear to make it even more useful.
Dyson might not be the most obvious entrant into the wearable technology space, but considering the company’s expertise in air purification and treatment, a product like this does start to make more sense the deeper you breathe it in. The Dyson Zone is billed as a “wearable purifier,” with the promise of delivering pure air and pure audio. In execution, it looks like a pair of slick Bluetooth headphones with a wrap-around mask-type piece of equipment in front of the mouth and nose area, not entirely unlike Bane’s mask in The Dark Knight Rises. The device doesn’t actually touch your face, instead sitting in front of it almost like a football helmet facemask. The goal, in short, is to tackle noise and air quality pollution with one device.
If the Zone works as advertised, it could be the first step in a burgeoning corner of wearable tech aimed at providing some level of assistance in the ever-worsening crisis of air pollution that plagues millions in major cities and urban areas. Humanity obviously needs to reduce pollution and having a piece of gear that provides personal protection on the go could certainly help in the meantime.
The headphones work like most any other mid-tier noise-canceling headphone set-up, with different modes that filter out urban noise (i.e. sirens, traffic, etc.) and allow for conversation where you can still hear the people around you. But the face-mounted air filtering tech is obviously what sets this thing apart.
According to Dyson, the face visor diffuses two jets of airflow to deliver crosswinds of filtered air to the nose and mouth. The earcups include compressors to draw in air through dual-later filters (the tech is fitted within the headphones). A negatively charged electrostatic filter captures ultrafine particles (allergens, brake dust, etc.) and a potassium-enriched carbon layer captures pollutants (i.e. NO2, SO2). That purified air is then pushed in front of the wearer’s face through the visor, which is contact-less (unlike a mask). Basically, a user will breathe like normal, it’s just the air they’re inhaling is being filtered in real-time.
“Air pollution is a global problem – it affects us everywhere we go. In our homes, at school, at work and as we travel, whether on foot, on a bike or by public or private transport,” Jake Dyson, chief engineer on the project, said in a statement. “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.”
The Verge was able to test out a prototype of the Zone, and noted it seemed to work as advertised, though the testing environments were more an ideal scenario than real-world circumstances — and the gear itself felt a bit large and unwieldy.
“I could feel the jets of air being pumped in front of my face — although I was indoors, so it was hard to tell just how much cleaner it was,” The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg notes. “On the flip side, the Zone headphones are also very big and noticeably heavy. Dyson has done an admirable job of cramming all this technology into a pair of headphones, but they’re still comparatively bigger and bulkier than, say, a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. Additionally, the whirring of the compressors was still slightly audible when the motors were running at faster speeds and I wasn’t listening to music to drown it out, even despite the noise cancellation.”
Though a product like this might seem like a reaction to the pandemic era, Dyson has actually been working to adapt its air purification tech into a wearable design for six years, starting with an incredibly clunky prototype that looked like the sweet spot between a gas mask and scuba gear. Over the past three years and a mind-boggling 500 iterative designs, Dyson refined the visor concept to its finished version, which is a bit smaller and tighter (though still big-ish) when compared to the earlier mock-ups.
The Zone is slated for release this fall, though Dyson is still mum on how much it will cost and how long the battery will last in use. Though the design at least looks fairly well-balanced, there are no clear details on exactly how heavy this rig is and how it might feel when strapped onto your head. It should also be noted air filtering tech is no replacement for a well-fitted mask to protect against viruses such as COVID-19.