I first came across US company ShadeCraft while writing up a report on what I thought were wacky products from CES in Las Vegas, some of which would never see the light of day, quite literally in this case. I loved the idea of an intelligent parasol – what next an intelligent garden spade? – but was sceptical that it would ever be released in the US, let alone northern Europe where it’s only sunny for a few days of the year.
But I think I might have just been proved wrong. After meeting ShadeCraft’s passionate Founder and CEO Armen Gharabegian at the official UK unveiling of the ShadeCraft prototype, in the shadow of London’s British Museum, I can see the concept might just work.
What’s more, I think there will be other outdoor products the company is developing which might well suit the British market more than this very large 10ft parasol (ShadeCraft is working on smaller models as well as solar panelled canopies).
Importantly, I’m assured that the solar panels work so efficiently that you don’t actually need 100 per cent sunshine. In fact the parasol will work with just 20 per cent of the sun’s radiation – ie. on a typically cloudy London day. That’s very good news indeed.
Of course a voice activated device like this, which is designed to work with Amazon’s Alexa as well as Google Home, can do so much more than move towards the sun, like a Sunflower.
Already built into the prototype we saw at the back of London’s British Museum were integrated speakers capable of playing different music playlists upon instruction (we were treated to rock and classical), as well as built in cameras that can display video footage via the app of course.
However, when the product launches next year it’s expected to have full integration with weather services so that it will, say, be able to predict when strong winds are coming and fold itself up automatically. It will also offer real time weather/environmental monitoring, including temperature, pollution levels, wind speed readings etc, all available via the app.
Other proposed features include LED lighting and USB connectivity with the solar panels charging the built in Lithium Ion battery in a few hours of direct sunshine. ShadeCraft’s Gharbegian also states that it will be possible to dismantle the parasol and put it in the car to take to the beach quite easily although this will probably prove a less popular option in the UK where car space is more limited.
Due to launch in 2018, the Sunflower is expected to cost a hefty £3000 at launch although prices will no doubt fall over time and smaller, cheaper models are planned for Europe where outdoor space is at more of a premium than in the US.
You can watch my interview with ShadeCraft’s Founder and CEO, Armen Gharabegian, in this YouTube video below: