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Dyson patent application imagines building an air purifier into headphones

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Designed to combat air pollution

The patent shows a pair of headphones with an additional band that provides filtered air.
Image: Dyson / IPO

Vacuum manufacturer Dyson has applied for a patent for a new pair of headphones with a built-in air purifier, which it claims could help combat the harmful effects of air pollution in cities, Bloomberg reports. The recently published application, which was filed with the UK’s Intellectual Property Office in July 2019, describes a pair of headphones with air filters built into its ear cups. Diagrams included in the application show a band that sits across the wearer’s mouth to provide them with clean air, which can be folded away when not in use.

Dyson already produces a wide range of air purifiers for the home, but these obviously don’t offer much help when you’re out and about. People already care enough about pollution in some parts of the world to wear face masks, the company’s patent reasons, so clearly, there’s a demand for a portable device that could more actively filter out pollutants, even if it comes with the stigma of partially obscuring the wearer’s face. (Although, in some places, face masks have emerged as a defense against surveillance states.)

An additional band across the wearer’s mouth provides clean air for them to breathe.
Image: Dyson / IPO
One diagram shows how the air purification part of the headphones could be folded away.
Image: Dyson / IPO

We’re curious to know how loud the whole mechanism is for a device meant to mute ambient noises for the purposes of appreciating music. Dyson’s patent application notes that the ear cups contain motors that spin at around 12,000 rpm to draw in approximately 1.4 liters of air a second, which sounds like it could generate a fair bit of noise. At that speed, the motors are rotating at over 10 times that of a typical PC fan. The tiny motors used in Dyson’s cordless vacuum cleaners spin at 120,000 rpm.

Dyson isn’t the only company that’s looking at making a wearable air purifier. Back at CES in January, Ao Air debuted the Atmos Faceware, a $350 device that the company claims provides better protection against particulate matter than a regular air filter mask and doesn’t need an airtight seal to be effective. The device also has a partially transparent design, which means it doesn’t completely obscure your face while you wear it.

Of course, just because Dyson has filed for the patent doesn’t mean the device is guaranteed to make it to release. The company has been working on its portable air purifier for a while, according to a Bloomberg report from 2018, and so far, legal documents like these are the only things it has to show for it. Dyson has also not been shy about canceling projects, even when it’s invested significantly in them. Last year, it abandoned its £2 billion electric car project, despite having turned an old airfield into a site to test its vehicles.