Dyson Zone is probably the most 'futuristic' device that we'll see in 2022. An air purifier that you wear, it sucks in air via a pair of filter-packing, noise-cancelling headphones, removing pollutants and particles before passing the purified air to a gap in front of your nose and mouth for you to inhale. Aaaaaah.
One thing that Dyson Zone is not intended to do – they made this very clear when I went to my first hands-on demo of the product – is to protect you from viruses such as Covid, flu and so on.
Unfortunately, because life is not fair, some of the most widely-shared coverage of the Dyson Zone announcement has focused on an apparent design flaw of the product. Namely that by drawing in air from outside and blowing it at your nose and mouth, the product actually increases the risk of infection by air-borne viruses. Covid is obviously the virus that has been on people's minds in recent times, and a lot of research suggests it lingers in the air for a significant amount of time after being exhaled, coughed or sneezed out in droplets.
This worry is partly based on the understanding that the filters used in Dyson's futuristic mask – or 'visor' as they officially call it – are designed to remove pollutants, allergens, dust and gases, and will be ineffective against smaller and more slippery virus 'particles'.
It's actually significant that the word 'visor' is used for Zone, because the portion that covers your nose and mouth does not actually make contact with your skin – it sits just in front of your face, and is thus a lot more comfy to wear than its slightly scary appearance would suggest.
Last week, I happened to be at Dyson's HQ in sunny Malmesbury to get hands on with Dyson Zone again – or face on, if you prefer. The brand put forward a number of its engineers to brief me, and the rest of the assembled press, about their new and upcoming products, and how they create and test their existing ones. I took the opportunity to ask a question about this alleged Covid issue of Mr Ng, their resident Zone expert. He's worked on the air purifying element of the mask since the project's inception; a separate team handles the headphones aspect of it.
Presented with the 'sucking in Covid and blowing it in your face' thesis, Dyson's man did not dismiss the idea out of hand, but said that anyone making the claim has, by definition, not tried the product and that it is consequently just a theory.
He also added that testing is ongoing on Dyson Zone. This is very true. Despite having now seen it twice, I am still not aware of any part of Zone being 100% signed off and complete. There isn't yet a precise launch date, price or even a battery life estimate for it, and the models I've tried, while impressive, do appear to be late prototypes rather than shop-ready products.
Most interestingly, he said that the Zone's filters – there are two; one in each ear cup – are able to remove particles as small as one micron which 'is the size of some virus particles'. He was at pains to make clear that Dyson has not tested the Zone against Covid and that is fair enough, since the brand has specifically said it is not intended to protect you against it.
It is not clear to me that pulling in potentially infected air from the area around your ears, filtering it and blowing it into the space in front of your nose and mouth is any worse than simply breathing in potentially infected air in the normal manner. However I'm not a molecular biologist.
It's important to note that Dyson Zone can be worn with a face mask, which renders this argument partially moot. In fact, as things stand, Dyson intends to include a fabric one in the box with it. Okay, the benefits of fabric masks are not entirely proven, but I can't see any reason why you couldn't substitute an N95 or other medical-grade mask, if you were so inclined.
The problem with this is that the whole point of Zone is that it is a much more comfortable form of 'mask' – sorry, 'visor' – but you lose the benefit of that entirely if you strap on an N95 beneath it.
The bottom line is that Dyson can say, very reasonably, that they have already declared that Zone is not intended as a defence against bacteria and viruses. However, I suspect some people will want more reassurance than that, and will end up either wearing a medical mask under their air-purifying visor, or giving the technology a miss altogether – which would be a shame.
Dyson Zone: release date and price
The official word is that 'Dyson Zone will be available online and in-store at Dyson Demo Stores and Dyson.co.uk from Autumn 2022. Timings will vary by geography.'
I don't have any confirmed pricing info but based on the price of Sony WH-1000XM5 – a pair of 2022 noise-cancelling headphones that don't have an air purifier attached to them – I am going to say at least £500/$600/AU$900. That is just a guesstimate though.