NEW YORK — For a guy who has spent his whole career building vacuum cleaners, Nick Grey doesn't hold a high opinion of most vacuum cleaners.
“The first vacuum cleaner, they just made a wooden box, they stuck a motor at one end and a bag at the other, and then they had a tube,” he says. “And the industry has just done variants of that for a hundred years.”
Ten years ago, Grey left his post as head of product development at an established British manufacturer to rethink the vacuum from the floor up. This year, his Worcestershire, U.K.-based company came out with a product that he believes represents a leap forward. It's called the Gtech AirRam, and it's as delightfully techie as it sounds.
Gtech began by jettisoning the most vexing component of your standard upright vacuum: the cord. Handheld dust-busters can get by with batteries, because they're not very powerful. But full-size vacuums tend to need cords because it takes a lot of wattage to suck dirt through a brush, around a fan, and all the way up a tube into a dust bag. The AirRam dispenses with the tube and puts the dust compartment right in the head of the vacuum. Now the dirt only has to travel 1 1/2 inches.
The power comes from a lithium-ion battery, as in many other high-end consumer electronic gadgets — and electric cars, for that matter. Between its potent battery and relatively low energy demand, it can run for 40 minutes on a single charge, enough to clean a good-sized house.
Other features are similarly well-conceived. The brush is more minimal than your typical vacuum brush, requiring less maintenance. The dust is compacted into tidy little blocks that are easy to remove. And the lack of a hose and bag make the handle surprisingly light and agile. It twists and pivots with a wide range of motion, making it easy to slide under tables or into corners. The whole thing weighs just 7.7 pounds, making it a godsend for the older and frailer among us.
I will not be purchasing a Gtech AirRam anytime soon, for one reason: It costs $299. (I bought my trusty little Eureka for $30, used.) It's not that the price is unreasonable, given how well it works. It's just a lot of money to pay for a vacuum.