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Big Ass Fans Gets into Smart Home Biz; Teams with Nest on ‘Thread’

One of the hippest names in cooling, Big Ass Fans launches ‘Smart Ass’ line; joins Nest and others to launch Thread Group, a new initiative in home automation.


From Big Ass Fans: Smart Ass Fans with SenseME technology, soon to become part of the Thread home automation ecosystem.
Julie Jacobson · July 15, 2014

In the past, Big Ass Fans had brawn and beauty but not a whole lot of smarts. That is changing with the soon-to-ship Smart Ass Fans featuring SenseME technology.

Built into the company’s Haiku residential fans, SenseME combines Wi-Fi communications with on-board sensors to learn user behaviors … and respond appropriately.

Call it the Nest of fans.

The learning fan is “all about personal comfort and learning what our customers’ preferences are,” says Landon Borders, controls engineering manager at Lexington, Ky.-based Big Ass Fans. “It requires very little adjusting but it’s there if necessary.”

In addition to his day job, Borders serves as director of the Thread Group, a new organization pushing Thread technology for the connected home.

Thread launches today with inaugural members Big Ass Fans, Nest and Yale on the CE product side, and ARM, Freescale, Samsung (chip division) and Silicon Labs.

RELATED: ‘Thread’ for Home Automation is Most Promising IoT Standard Yet

Thread employs 6LoWPAN, which delivers IPv6 over low-power 802.15.4 radios (same as ZigBee) to optimize battery life and exploit the abundance of IP products and services.

To further optimize 6LoWPAN for home automation, Thread adds a layer of security, peer-to-peer communications and, most importantly, mesh technology to extend the range indefinitely.

Nest created a version of Thread for its own thermostats and CO/smoke detectors, calling the proprietary implementation Weave. It is likely (although not conceded) that Weave is the basis of Thread.

In any case, Thread Group president Chris Boross, a technical marketing exec at Nest, indicates millions of Thread-enabled devices (i.e., Nest products) have already been deployed.

That’s pretty much how Big Ass Fans got involved in Thread.

Alex Reed, director of consumer marketing for Big Ass Fans, tells CE Pro the company was working with Nest on a different project that preceded Thread.

“Over time,” he says, “they started telling us about Thread technology and the vision for the connected home.”

Big Ass Fans said, “We’re in.”

Evolution of the Smart Ass

Built into the chassis, SenseME technology for Haiku Smart Ass Fans includes sensors for occupancy, temperature and humidity, allowing the spinner to adjust to indoor climate conditions and activity in the room.

Big Ass Fans offers LED lighting options as well, bringing added control to the room.

Of course there’s an iOS app for programming scenes and otherwise controlling the fan and lights but it is, nonetheless, not smart enough to integrate with other smart devices in the home.

Cloud-enabled services are not part of the scheme at this time since there’s little reason to operate a fan if no one is in the house.

Isolated Fans are a Dumb @)%&* Idea

Reed says that a fan’s autonomy makes no sense in a smart home.

“The obvious choice is marrying fans with HVAC controllers,” he says. “Both are designed to control climate and keep you comfortable. Up until now, they’ve been disparate.”

Why would you air condition an entire home, for example, when residents are quite comfortable in the fan-cooled rooms they occupy?

Big Ass Fans SenseME App Features

  • Motion Sensor: Detects when you enter or leave a room and turns Haiku on and off automatically
  • Smart Mode: Learns your comfort preferences, automatically adjusting the speed to what you find comfortable
  • Whoosh Mode: Silently mimics a natural breeze to make you feel up to 40% cooler
  • Sleep Mode: Gradually lowers fan speed every hour until it shuts off, saving energy while you snooze
  • Alarm: Personalized and pleasant wake-up with any combination of air, light and sound
  • Scheduling: Set precise schedules for all of Haiku’s uniquecontrol modes
  • Wi-Fi: Control your fan manually with the smart phone app and enjoy new features via over-the-air updates
  • Grouping: Sync multiple fans in the same space for identical operation

While Big Ass Fans gets the “obvious parallels with Nest,” Reed says, “there are other use cases that we were not really aware of.”

For example, the company had not considered having lights flash upon an emergency event. Ditto for shutting off fans when smoke is detected, so as not to spread the menace.

And that’s why Big Ass Fans initiated conversations with Nest and ultimately joined the Thread Group.

Embedding Thread in the fan would allow Smart Ass Fans to communicate directly with Nest devices – and future devices in the Thread ecosystem – directly over a mesh network, even if the home network is down.

Fans make a perfect partner for thermostats. They both are designed to control climate and keep people comfortable.

“No matter how you set the thermostat, room-by-room comfort is going to vary,” he says.

Fans can put any home on an “energy diet” by circulating air instead of pumping out cold air streams. According to Reed, the average number of fans per home is about four.

“You feel the same but use less energy,” Reed explains.

As for the future of the Smart Ass Fans, the Big Asses have not yet begun embedding 802.14.5 chipsets in current products, but we can assume they will eventually.

There are sure to be a lot of lazy-@)%&* consumers who don’t want to yank any chains, but the industrial-strength units are not for cheap-@)%&* buyers.

Smart Ass Fans will start at about $1,500. They can be ordered today, with expected delivery in four to six weeks.

Learn more about Thread home automation technology.
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


News · Big Ass Fans · Nest · Thread · All Topics
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