If you want to see the future of technology, visit CES in Las Vegas. In January, we had the honor of doing just that. Of the hundreds of products we experienced and admired, ShadeCraft's Sunflower stood out.
Sunflower is a smart patio umbrella capable of following the movement of the sun and providing shade all day long. If you're not new here, you might be wondering why we, a security camera review site, are so impressed by an umbrella. The answer lies in one of the Sunflower's secondary features: two security cameras.
A Deeper Look At Sunflower
Before we delve into its security potential, let's start with the basics. Sunflower is a product of ShadeCraft, a Los Angeles-based robotics startup. At first glance, it looks like your basic, albeit stylish, patio umbrella. But under its, err, hood, it's much more than that. As said earlier, Sunflower tracks and follows the sun. The product's design allows it to swivel and a proximity sensor prevents it from crashing into objects all while making sure you don't OD on vitamin D.
Sunflower Swivels, But Not Too Much
Sunflower's features are multi-purpose. First, they optimize its ability to harvest solar energy. Attached to the umbrella's frame is a solar panel. These panels charge the built-in battery that is capable of powering Sunflower for 72 hours. Sunflower also comes with a built-in USB port so that you can plug and charge your mobile devices courtesy of the sun.
Second, they create an automatic shading system to protect you from the sun. While Sunflower is autonomous, you can fine tune the position of the umbrella using the ShadeCraft app on your smartphone. The app works when your phone's connected to Sunflower via Bluetooth. However, if your Wi-Fi signal can reach the patio, you can also connect Sunflower to your router and control it with your phone the same way you would control a smart security camera. Obviously, your phone needs Wi-Fi, 3G, or 4G in order for this to happen.
Cellular Connectivity and Accessories
What if you have an unusual attachment to your patio furniture and want to take Sunflower with you, let's say, to the beach? Fortunately, there's another way to connect to Sunflower.
Sunflower will also come with optional cellular data connectivity, allowing it to becomes its own Wi-Fi source.
While the benefits of cellular connectivity are pretty obvious, it will allow you to access Sunflower's remote features in places where the internet does not extend, there is one more potential benefit and one potential gotcha. Though not clear, it appears that when cellular service is active, Sunflower can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. But, and this is a big but, the feature is not free. Cellular connectivity will cost ya, probably a little bit every month.
Sunflower will also have other optional accessories including two mounting accessories. The mounts allow you to mount Sunflower to a picnic table or position it on a sandy beach or grassy meadow. There will also be a glass holder that can heat or cool your drinks.
Sunflower for Home Security and Smart Homes
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 take the party indoors. It can also measure wind speeds and automatically close its canopy if it's too gusty outside.
Sunflower will even work with a few to-be-named smart home brands. Depending upon which smart home devices you have, you might be able to connect them to Sunflower to get a forecast, play music, or even make your Nest thermostat more intelligent. Finally, Sunflower is promised to work with AI voice assistants. In fact, Sunflower will also function as a voice controlled device. Unfortunately, ShadeCraft hasn't name dropped any AI assistants yet.
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. Unfortunately, we still don't know what security features come with the cameras as Sunflower hasn't hit the shelves yet. Will they have motion detection? Will they detect loud sounds? We hope so. Fortunately, while we don't have all the answers about the security cameras, we do have a few.
First, we know that you can 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. We also know that you can take pictures or record videos manually using your phone. And we know that you can set Sunflower to capture panoramic images as it moves.
As for image and video storage, Sunflower uses cloud storage. However, they don't plan to launch their own cloud. Instead, they will allow you to use your existing storage subscription service such as Google Drive, OneNote, or Dropbox.
A Look at Sunflower's Audio Features
What's a day in the sun without music? (Or even a podcast or audiobook for that matter.) If you enjoy music in the sun, Sunflower has you covered. It comes with speakers, for starters, and can connect to your phone so that you can stream music all day long. Additionally, using the smartphone app, you can stream music, podcasts, or audiobooks from various channels. As of now, however, ShadeCraft hasn't shared which streaming services Sunflower will work with.
A Quick Summary
Sunflower is a hell of a product. It combines multitudes of smart home features into a smart patio umbrella. If you're a bottom line type of guy, let me summarize for you:
- Auto-Adjusting Umbrella
- Connects via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Cellular (Optional)
- Air Quality Sensor and UV Index
- Weather Alert and Forecast
- Wind Speed Sensor
- Solar Power
- Recharges Devices via USB Port
- Plays Music, Podcast, Audiobooks
- Equipped with Two Cameras
- Panoramic View
- Live Streaming
- Manual Capture of Image and Video
- Videos Sent To Third-Party Cloud Storage of Your Choice
- AI Voice Control
The Sunflower we saw displayed at CES is a prototype. Pricing and availability are both TBD. If you want to check out Sunflower and track its development, you can visit ShadeCraft's website. You may also subscribe to their newsletter for updates.