Dyson's electronics revolution: New products, apps and robots in the pipeline
Dyson, the brand famous for reinventing the household vacuum cleaner, is building a new R&D center in the UK to support its growing electronics design activity. According to reports, the company is placing electronics at the heart of its product development plans moving forward.
Dyson shot to notoriety by developing an innovative vacuum cleaner that didn’t require a bag. It also developed a bladeless fan and powerful hand dryer among other products. While the engineering of these products was sophisticated, there was not a huge element of electronics involved. In 2015, that is all changing at Dyson.
This year, the company is launching the Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner and electronics will not only be part of the design but will define the product. In fact the introduction of the 360 Eye robot has placed Dyson at the forefront of home electronics and artificial intelligence in the home.
“We have the mechanical and software capabilities, but we still lack understanding – machines that see and think in the way that we do. Mastering this will make our lives easier and lead to previously unthinkable technologies,” says company founder, Sir James Dyson.
The future of household technology
Electronics hardware and software design has become an important element in product development at Dyson. So much so that the company is planning to create a new electronics development centre at its facility in Wiltshire, UK.
“If we look back at Dyson products over the last 20 years, there was not a lot of electronics in the early vacuum cleaners,” points out Claudio Zizzo global head of electronics at Dyson.
“Sir James Dyson was quick to recognise that electronics was no longer just an enabler within the product. With the 360 Eye robot, it is the product,” says Zizzo.
Zizzo, who has strong background in managing electronics design groups at Motorola and Rolls-Royce, was recruited by Dyson almost two years ago to build up the company’s electronics capability. “The company recognised that electronics was becoming a core element of future product development plans,” says Zizzo.
“In the consumer world the pace of development is very aggressive. Dyson is developing electronics technology on a very fast trajectory and we see a big opportunity to innovate,” says Zizzo.
A new robotics laboratory will also be opening at the company HQ in the next two months, paving the way for greater innovation. Furthermore, Dyson has recruited 60 electronics development engineers in the UK in the last 12 months and Zizzo says there are plans recruit another 70 engineers this year.
Taking robots out of confined spaces
Dyson also has a Dyson Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London and is looking to apply the operation of robots beyond controlled environments, such as assembly lines where they work within a strict set of parameters - the idea being that robots could successfully navigate the real world by interacting safely with their surroundings given the ability process visual information in real-time.
The Dyson 360 Eye has a 360-degree camera and many sensors, which are used to model the robot’s environment in 3D. The robot can determine the layout of a room, but also distinguish between objects and determine their purpose.
Each house is different, points out Zizzo, so the robot must carry out probabilistic and heuristic analysis of the images and sensor data in real-time, which requires high performance digital signal processing and sophisticated software algorithms.
“A lot of learning takes place in the robot with the aim of getting maximum floor/area coverage with the minimum run time,” says Zizzo.
The electronics design activities within Dyson incorporate analogue and power circuit design as well as embedded processor systems design. There is advanced motor control for the four drive motors in each robot, for example as well as radio frequency circuit design for the Wi-Fi system.
Dyson is also developing its own software to control and operate the robot. The software development team numbers 55 people and is growing rapidly. The software and connectivity team is also responsible for the development of the smartphone apps which are used to operate the robot.
The company, which has expanded its horizons from vacuum cleaner design to robotics, is not planning to stop looking for new areas in which it can innovate.
Last November, Dyson announced its plans for a £1.5bn investment for future technologies, including a £1bn for the research and development of new product technologies. Zizzo believes electronics design will become a major element of future product development at the company.
“The products that come after this first robot will have even greater levels of electronics within them,” says Zizzo. “There is an electronics revolution taking place at Dyson.”
Ultium Cells LLC/Li-Cycle: Sustainable Battery Manufacturing
Ultium Cells LLC - a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions - has announced its latest collaboration with Li-Cycle. Joining forces the two have set ambitions to expand recycling in North America, recycling up to 100% of the scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing
What is Ultium Cells LLC?
Announcing their partnership in December 2019, General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions established Ultium Cells LLC with a mission to “ensure excellence of Battery Cell Manufacturing through implementation of best practices from each company to contribute [to the] expansion of a Zero Emission propulsion on a global scale.”
Who is Li-Cycle?
Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle leverages innovative solutions to address emerging and urgent challenges around the world.
As the use of Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in automotive, industrial energy storage, and consumer electronic applications rises, Li-Cycle believes that “the world needs improved technology and supply chain innovations to better recycle these batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials.”
Why are Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle join forces?
By joining forces to expand the recycling of scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing in North America, the new recycling process will allow Ultium Cells LLC to recycle cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum.
“95% of these materials can be used in the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries,” says GM, who explains that the new hydrometallurgical process emits 30% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than traditional processes, minimising the environmental impact. Use of this process will begin later in the year (2021).
"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain. This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining, " said Ajay Kochhar, President, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle.
"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90% of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025. Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials,” added Ken Morris, Vice President of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, GM.
Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100% of the battery packs it has received from customers, with most current GM EVs repaired with refurbished packs.
"We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended. This is a crucial step in improving the sustainability of our components and manufacturing processes,” concluded Thomas Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Ultium Cells LLC.