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James Dyson on Killing the Contrarotator, His 'Educative Failure'

Sir James Dyson in 2000 with his Contrarotator washing machine part
Sir James Dyson in 2000 with his Contrarotator washing machine partPhotograph by Michiel Hendryckx

James Dyson famously took 15 years and 5,126 prototypes before coming up with the bagless vacuum cleaner that made him a household name. But that doesn’t mean the U.K. inventor doesn’t know when to quit. While Dyson has since moved into products from hand dryers to bladeless fans, he reluctantly abandoned one of his favorite inventions: the Contrarotator Washing Machine. He spoke me about his decision to kill the innovative—and expensive—product.

“I don’t design down to a price. With my vacuum cleaner, I wanted to have this instantaneous hose and a clear bin of polycarbonate to see the dust. When I looked at washing machines, I took the same approach. We came up with a technology that involves having two drums, two motors, clutches, and more. By moving the drums in opposite directions, we were able to mimic the motion of hand washing.