Yesterday I caught up with ShadeCraft founder and CEO, Armen Gharabegian, to have a demonstration of this robot parasol.
The company behind Sunflower is a robotics and tech startup, based in Los Angeles.
ShadeCraft’s mission is to combine solar energy, robotic automation and artificial intelligence (AI) integration to change the way people live outdoors.
This is the world’s first autonomous shade.
Sunflower is solar powered and connects to the IoT (Internet of Things) and the smart home ecosystem through AI integration.
The ‘device’ itself is 10 feet tall. Unfurled, the umbrella measures 7-square-feet. Thanks to 3 electric motors it can rotate through 360 degress and tilt up to 45 degress. This ensures it catches those important rays.
This means that it is completely wireless. No need to consider its placement regarding power connections.
It is also packing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. While I was chatting with the team I asked whether Sunflower could act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Their response was a knowing look and “may be later”. To me this would make perfect sense as not everyone’s Wi-Fi signal can reach the bottom of their garden.
Sunflower is obviously much more than a regular parasol.
As well as all that wireless connectivity, Sunflower also has integrated cameras, lighting, and a multitude of sensors.
Power for all this is produced by the solar panels.
Sunflower’s batteries will last more than 72 hours without sunlight.
As the Sunflower needs power from the sun it makes sense that it should track its power source.
Thankfully, it does just that autonomously. Not only collecting optimum energy, but producing optimum shade for you.
Sunflower doesn’t only protect you from the sun’s harmful rays; it also helps protect you from unseen risks.
It includes sensors that measure UV index and air quality. If the UV level is too high or if the air quality isn’t healthy, Sunflower will send you a note suggesting you go inside for a while.
Depending upon which smart home devices you have, you will be able to connect them to Sunflower to get a forecast, play music, or even make your connected thermostat more intelligent.
Then there’s the AI voice assistants, such as Alexa. In fact, Sunflower will also function as a voice controlled device.
In addition to sensors, Sunflower has two built-in cameras.
These cameras can be used to enhance home security or even capture special moments outdoors.
Firstly you can use them to check on your patio using the cameras via a live feed feature. You can even make the cameras pan and tilt, just like a pan-and-tilt security camera.
Secondly, you will be able to take pictures or record videos manually using your phone. Futhermore, you can set Sunflower to capture panoramic images as it moves.
This is perhaps the main difference between Sunflower and any other premium patio umbrella.
At the moment this shade is using a propriety AI but plans are afoot to add in Alexa.
As it is, you can still ask “Sunflower, play some rock”, and in my demo I was treated to some Rolling Stones.
The smartware is also checking things such as sun position, humidity, temperature as well as whether-or-not it has room to open up or not.
The last thing that Armen and co wanted was Sunflower opening or moving to track the sun and damage itself.
It also is clever enough to fold itself away if it gets too windy and then open up again when the sun comes out.
Where would be a new piece of smart tech without its own app.
You also get to check on its charging and power status.
Sunflower will connect to the SmartShade app once it has been released in 2018. It will be available on iOs and Android in 2018.
ShadeCraft Sunflower first impressions
The thought of a robotic sun shade might not thrill you at first. But, after checking out the prices of some of the luxury aluminium parasols out there (Tucci, I’m looking at you and your Ocean Mast Max Cantilever parasol costing € 5,999), the Sunflower brings more than shade.
Here you have a weather station, an entertainment centre, and power generator for your smart tech. Not only that, you have a robot in your garden.
Watching this beta version move smoothly and silently it already acts like a premium item.
I can see these being used outside swanky restaurants and hotel pools. Not only that though, I am sure there will be many residential buyers who just cannot be bothered to continually adjust their shade. Thanks to its in-built speakers, background music is already added.
It looks smart and acts smart. I am hoping that I get a chance to review one in my very own garden at some point, so stay tuned.
ShadeCraft Sunflower price and availabilty
The company is hoping to get Sunflower ready for the Summer of 2018.
I believe that the planned price point is around the £3,000 mark.
For more information, head on over to the ShadeCraft website.