Rube Goldberg rat-run sends a neutral balloon through dozens of Dyson bladeless fans

Here's a lovely little sport: Dyson engineers rendered a helium balloon neutrally buoyant and then fed it into a Mousetrap-style rat-run composed of Dyson bladeless fans, through which it bumbled and slurped and bounced, drawn through on invisible air currents. All it wants for total nerdvana is colored smoke-streamers.

We bought one of these fans last month during the Big Heat in London. We needed a new fan for the baby's room, one that was easy to adjust, one that she couldn't feed her fingers into (she's still small enough to get her fingers well into the grill on our bedroom fan) and to be honest, I just wanted to see how it worked for myself. It certainly cost a lot more than a "normal" fan, but it's not as though I buy a fan every month; spending extra on a one-time purchase bothers me a lot less than setting up recurring premium expenses.

The verdict? We like it. It's spooky, of course, to have a bladeless fan that seems to conjure a breeze out of nothing. I'd heard reports that it was noisy, but relative to our other fan, it's actually quite quiet. I'd also read that it was a little underpowered, but again, not so I've noticed. I'm actually considering buying one for the office now.

Balloons and Dyson Air Multiplier fans (via Make)


  1. Translation : We have a bunch of fans no one is buying, and a lot of free time on our hands.

    1. Exactly! I saw one of those Dyson fans in PC World last weekend – “hey, that’s a really neat idea, I thought”,

      The Dyson fan was priced at £200!!

      Sorry Dyson – it’s a neat idea and a good design. That design is worth some premium, perhaps I’d stretch to £30 for it.

      If I lived in a society where haggling was the expected norm, perhaps I’d have tried to beat them down on the price of the Dyson…. as it was I picked up the Matsui fan on sale for £12, right next to it, and I’m using it now….

    1. They use blades in the base.

      Seriously, I’m astonished with Cory – this so looks like a product a person cannot sensible repair on his or her own and is much more obscenely priced like an iPad or another toy.

      1. I’m not clear on why this would necessarily be any harder to repair than any other fan.

        1. Well, if it were Apple it would be “magical”. Sorry for being not very impressed with Dyson technolgy, the Harley of moving air.

  2. I always wondered what would happen if you crossed the Super Hadron Collider with a lava-lamp.

  3. damnit, hehpets beat me to the LHC comment, and with a funnier one than I was planning.

  4. The British have become very good at marketing technology that isn’t better as better.

  5. As noted above, there are plenty of blades in this thing; just not where you can get at them (or clean off the accumulated dust before the whole thing grinds to a smoking halt).

    And while I don’t begrudge a tech blogger his gadgets, I’m not sure the baby excuse holds up. Your garden-variety plastic-bladed box fan might conceivably bruise or abrade a baby who poked it in just the right way, but it’s not a 1940’s style spinning metal deathtrap. As one of those kids who TRIED to get hurt by doing stupid things with appliances, she’ll be fine.

    On the other hand, this is a neat way to use $30,000 worth of fans. :)

  6. “Customers who bought this item also bought Scorpion King II: Rise of a Warrior”

    Was that you Cory?

  7. I really can’t imagine I’m the only person out here who’s noticing Cory’s increasing departure from reality. I don’t know any fellow proles who could afford a $299 fan. The $19 box fan I bought 8 years ago is still working great today, and doesn’t come with any “recurring premium expenses.”

    What’s interesting is the social aspect of how someone can rise (or sink, depending on how you look at it) to the point where they think spending $299 on a window fan is not only acceptable, but normal. But from their own point of view they haven’t changed at all.

    1. Dude, I could easily buy a $299 fan. I have no idea what “proles” you’re referring to, but it must not be a member of the “middle class.” The median household income in the UK is $39,000. $299 is a very small portion of that. The median household income in the US is $52,029; $299 is an even smaller portion of that.

      Some people spend money on nice fans and other attractive items, others buy cars. Do you have a car? I bet it cost you more than $299.

      What’s amazing to me is how many people react to someone spending their money differently from themselves as if it was “wrong.” Just like sex, food, and music, there should be no “norm” and no prescribed way to spend one’s income. It’s up to the individual, and it’s ridiculous to treat someone as if they’re a billionaire because they spent at most a couple day’s wages on a fan.

      And before you ask, the only fans I own are the cheap box fans. They didn’t even cost me $8 – I got them for free as a hand me down.

    2. scissorfighter, are you serious? You don’t know anybody who can afford a $300 gadget?

      I’m sorry, but actually you might be alone in thinking Cory is departing from reality. Look at his history – he has posted plenty of times about neat gadgets and gear. This is hardly a departure for him, nor a continuation of some imagined trend.

      1. It’s not a question of being able to afford it, it’s a question of being in the market for it. If you won a free $300, you too would be able to “afford” a Dyson bladeless fan. But would you buy one? I certainly wouldn’t. The reason is not that I don’t want the fan, it’s that I have a lot of other things I’d like to spend $300 on first. It appears that Cory’s gotten to the point in his material accumulation that he feels he has nothing better to spend $300 on than a fancy looking fan with dubious practical benefits.

        And hey, that’s ok – I’m not trying to cast judgment. But I can say that the assumption that such desires and purchases are reasonable is kind of alienating to me and most people I know. It’s a different paradigm – we quite simply “don’t get it”. I’m sure that Chinese factory workers would feel the same way about my purchases.

        1. zikzak, you say you’re not trying to cast judgement, but you are.

          The fan obviously is working for him. It has an interesting design and, while expensive, is within reach. If you are into great design (I think Cory might be), something like this could even be considered art and for that person, $300 might be a bargain. I won’t make that judgement though.

          I know people who would think a $300 fan is crazy, but then will spend $500 on aftermarket car wheels. My Dad thinks anybody who gets an iPhone is nuts – they cost $2,000 over the life of the 2-year contract. Who cares though? If an expensive item is attainable and it makes you happier, then go for it.

  8. At their current price, this represents approximately one BILLION dollars worth of Dyson fans. It’s true. I did the math.

  9. I am not sure what the big deal is. If somebody thinks that these things are worth a small fortune, big deal! I do admit that, while being overpriced, they are very cool. This video makes me wish that I had a dozen, so lay off Cory.

    Also, parents are very protective, even to the point of overprotective (don’t worry — it wears off after the 2nd or 3rd kid). Not getting fingers chopped off is very reasonable. As a kid, I also did my share of sticking things in the fan blades. There are cheaper alternatives for “kid safe” fans, including ones with foam blades, but none that I know of with this kind of air volume.

    If you have the money to burn and you enjoy it, good for you for getting one, Cory.

  10. I’m with Cory, these things are awesome and made my place feel much cooler during the recent heat wave.

    Now all we have to wait for is the Air Multiplier’s ‘Portal’ upgrade.

  11. I decided to block quote their marketing fluff just to clarify a few things:

    Dyson Air Multiplier™ fans work differently from conventional fans. They use Air Multiplier™ technology to draw in air and amplify it – from 15 to 18 times, depending on the model. With no blades or grille, they’re safe and easy to clean. And they produce an uninterrupted stream of smooth air, with no unpleasant buffeting.

    First, note that “Air Multiplier” is trademarked, not patented. In fact a quick search shows that their patent application was declined under somewhat embarrassing circumstances.

    Secondly, what does it mean to “amplify” air? They appear to be referring to the fact that air moving in a certain direction also moves the air next to it (viscosity). But it doesn’t amplify momentum, so accelerating 15 times more air yields 1/15th as much velocity. In fact forcing air through those little holes no doubt eats a fair amount of energy.

    Thirdly, “no unpleasant buffeting” refers to laminar flow, which has some benefits, of which better cooling is not one.

  12. Cute video, though it’s edited to make the balloon’s passage through the various mazes seem much more elaborate (and, no doubt, more successful) than it actually is.

  13. A nice homage to Goldberg, and kudos to the Dyson “enginerds” who envisioned this.

    I also agree with @dculberson that there is no norm when it comes to human behavior, we can certainly all agree that some things are on the edges of social acceptability, but buying an expensive fan is certainly just an expression of free will.

  14. Fan really tied the room together….

    Also, I choked on that $300 price. Spending that much for a ceiling fan makes sense, you can really tell the difference in quality of materials and the way it works. But I like my other fans cheap and noisy.

  15. Seems like it’s not a Rube Goldberg machine if it’s made of only one thing, plus this is clearly an edit (and a not very clever on) implying many fans, but actually showing no more than fourteen fans at any one time.

  16. If I ever pay $300 to be fanned, you can bet that it will be by one or more persons who are quite lovely to behold and immodestly dressed.

  17. I like Mister Dyson’s products, though they’re often not quite as good as their hype. If I had the disposable income, and the need for a fan, I’d definitely buy one. And I’d play with blowing bubbles into it, or streams of smoke…..

  18. instead of, say, putting in a link to a page that says how the bladeless fans work.

    Actually, the article you linked to merely described how the “air multiplier” is supposed to work. Most consumers would be much more interested in how it actually works in the home. Does the intake clog up, and if so, is it easy to fix? Is it more comfortable than a regular fan? Can it replace an air conditioner? Is the noise so irksome that sometimes one will choose to suffer in the heat?

  19. But does it work for cooling an overheating system? (Would be one of the most expensive options out there.)

    Next up, a series of Will it Fan? videos.

  20. That reminds me of a game I had as a kid- the one with a small floating styrofoam sphere that you navigated through hoops via an exceedingly loud fan.

    Had a moon/space theme, if memory serves.

  21. It seems worse to me, considering it suffers from a more exterme version of the same problem that affects most fans. There is little to no air movement inside the stream. It’s like you are getting a ring of air pushed at you. Now if you have a larger fan, or something with a grill that will direct the air, that can help. Really a blower or squirrel cage fan produces a nice solid stream of air, but they are hard to find that are of any quality (and that are quiet…)

    Kind of the same problem that computer fans have/had, especially back 10 years ago when heatsink designs were not as good.

  22. Thanks Zikzak for saying it better than I could.

    @Chesterfield If an expensive item is attainable and it makes you happier, then go for it.

    I think that’s the underlying problem. We’ve been conditioned to equate buying expensive things with happiness.

  23. That fan still has blades, they’re just hidden in the base of the unit in the “turbine”. A vertical tower fan 10 times cheaper, moves more air and is as quiet, but you don’t get the feeling of superiority you get from a Dyson product. Dyson: the BMW of sucking and blowing.

  24. I love this quote from their YouTube description…

    “Disclaimer: This was created and executed by trained Dyson engineers under a controlled environment. Do not attempt to duplicate.”

    Damn, I thought this things were just benign room fans. Now I’m putting them in the same category as Happy Fun Ball.

  25. @Nadreck: I was hoping I wasn’t the only one to think of the transit system in Futurama.

  26. It appears that Cory’s gotten to the point in his material accumulation that he feels he has nothing better to spend $300 on than a fancy looking fan with dubious practical benefits.

    Dude, Cory is a writer for a freaking tech blog about weird shit. No, he isn’t normal. I listened to him describe his various server set ups and the custom code he runs (on TWiT I think it was)… seriously… HE ISN’T NORMAL.

    Strangely enough, that isn’t a bad thing. I read BoingBoing because it is filled with not-normal people reporting on weird stuff for an audience that I am pretty freaking sure isn’t a normal cross section of humanity. Further, he at no point declares it an awesome deal or something all the proles should go out and get.

    So instead of spending an extra $10,000 for some car that is better only in trivial ways than a cheaper one, he blows a few hundred on a geeky looking fan. I am pretty sure that the healthier option of the two is to buy the fan.

    Finally, it is a one time $300 cost that serves as an amusing talking point. Affordable by everyone? No. Affordable by many? Easily. It is hardly a diamond ring. I might not buy one, then again I can easily drop $150 taking my family to a restaurant.

  27. I don’t know about these fans, and some of their vacuum cleaners do break down, but their Airblade is the best I’ve met of those hand dryers you find in public lavatories in airports and motorway service stations and restaurants and so on. Most others are a bit half-arsed and leave you largely as damp as before, but with the Dysons you really feel as though your hands are being scraped dry with thin blades of air.

  28. The airblade is also stunningly similar to designs previously found in East Asia. I used one the other day in a highway rest stop in Korea, and I remember thinking to myself how they must have licensed the Dyson design. Apparently not.

    Sorry Dyson Fanboys.

  29. This is why I love BoingBoing.

    Incidentally, the director of Le Ballon Rouge is rolling over in his grave. He’s probably blue with envy.

  30. $300 is just the first model/early adopter price.
    Give it a few years, and the illegal knock-offs, then the licensed knock-offs, and finally the post-patent knock-offs, will bring the price point down.
    I haven’t experienced one of these fans first hand, but if they work as well as it appears, they’ll eventually become ubiquitous. Especially because they just look so cool!

  31. Here’s what I want to know: if you put your face right up to one side and talk, does it sound like an alien robot from the other side?

    Because that’s what I want out of my fans.

  32. There are, by the way, industrial devices that use the same basic air-moving principles as the Dyson fan, that are truly bladeless – they’re powered by compressed air.

    The portable versions usually have long megaphone-like snouts attached to the ring, but some of the permanently-mounted models don’t.

    Since they have no moving parts and operate on compressed air, they’re frequently used in industrial settings to exhaust explosive gases from confined spaces.

    Hollywood special effects techs stick the intakes into bags of fuller’s earth or fake foam rocks or balsa-wood chips to add blown debris to simulated explosions on movie sets.

    Try Googling “air amplifiers” or “airmovers” to see examples. (They’re the ‘airmovers’ that look like narrow megaphones, not the ones that look like big plastic snails. The snail-shaped airmovers are just big powerful squirrel-cage blowers. Different machine entirely.)

  33. Don’t know if anyone has mentioned it, but a lot of shots in the video look super fake, even though they seem plausible. It was probably cheaper to fake it.

  34. I kept forgetting to say:

    I’m quite sure that the video was done in one take.

    No, really.

  35. They should incorporate one of these into a toilet seat. Switch to ‘suck’ to direct any errant streams of badly-aimed pee into the bowl, and to ‘blow’ for drying off any rogue spots on your clothes when you didn’t shake hard enough. For those who prefer to sit, the benefits are obvious. You could also float polystyrene beads on top of the air flow and aim at those… just a thought.

Comments are closed.