Have you noticed how hand dryers in public bathrooms have gotten more high tech lately? Super concentrated bursts of dry air that promise to work quickly and actually are noticeably faster than their predecessors? You can thank three MITers for that: Sol Aisenberg PhD ’57; George Freedman ’43; and Richard Pavelle, who was on the research staffs at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science and Lincoln Lab.
They are three of the four scientists at Invent Resources, Inc. (IRI), a company they cofounded during their retirements to create inventions on demand. Together, the four IRI scientists have expertise in just about every scientific discipline that would be useful for invention. Their “fields of competency” list includes cryogenics, general relativity, energy conversion, plasma physics, advanced materials, novel chemical processes, and medical technology, among scores more.
Before retiring, Aisenberg led the high-tech divisions of several Fortune 500 companies and pioneered ion-assisted deposition and demonstration of hydrogen-free artificial diamond film materials.
Freedman founded and was director of Raytheon’s New Products Center. One team he led produced the world’s first samarium cobalt magnets that were stronger than those that could be measured at the National Magnet Lab at MIT and were later used in Patriot missiles and tools used in space.
Pavelle patented the credit card calculator, golf-club faces that expanded the sweet spot and are now industry standard, and an electrochemical process that reduces charging times for batteries.
And then they took on commercial hand dryers, discovering that the previous models wasted 90 percent of the energy going into them. In this case, IRI had already unsuccessfully pitched their idea for a faster hand dryer to industry leader World Dryer. But Excel Dryer of East Longmeadow, Mass., a small family owned company, hired them to create a product people would actually want to use.
IRI scientists were shooting for 10 seconds of drying time—down from 30–40 seconds, but after three-and-a-half years of work got it down to 12, which is now the standard. Excel owner Denis Gagnon was so certain the engineering team at IRI had created a revolutionary product that he risked his life savings: he borrowed against his home and life insurance, drained his bank accounts, and took loans from friends and relatives.
The resulting product was the Xlerator, the first revamped hand dryer to hit the market. Others have since followed, like the Dyson Airblade that you stick your arms into.
According to an interview with NPR, Excel’s sales have risen more than 10 percent every year for the past decade. And there’s room for growth. Data suggest that there are 25 million public bathrooms nationwide not using automatic hand dryers, even though a basic-model Xlerator costs $400, offers 95 percent cost savings over paper towels, and has a significantly smaller carbon footprint.