The name might be funny, but Lexington, Ky.-based manufacturer Big Ass Fans wants to be a serious smart home contender, with a connected ceiling fan that claims first-of-its-kind features.
The product is the Haiku Ceiling Fan with SenseMe, and it features built-in Wi-Fi, motion detection, and sensors for things like heat and humidity. Using a free smartphone app, you'll be able to control and schedule the Haiku to your heart's content, or just set it to learn what temperatures you like, then cool accordingly all on its own. Those are all great features -- but they won't come close to cheap. The Haiku with SenseMe rings in at a head-spinning $1,045 (international pricing and availability won't be released until early 2015, but currently that converts to £620, or AU$1,120).
That's obviously an awful lot to pay for a smart ceiling fan -- enough to make $250 (or £250) Nest Learning Thermostat and $300 Quirky+GE Aros Smart Air Conditioner (US-only), both of which offer similar smart climate control features, seem like absolute steals by comparison.
Still, the price point has less to do with smarts than it does with the specific ceiling fan we're talking about. The first generation of the Haiku (sans smarts) made its debut in 2012, and was the first residential appliance produced by Big Ass Fans, who until then, had specialized primarily in eponymous large-sized industrial fans.
Marketed as an ultra-high-end ceiling fan, each $895 Haiku boasts top of the line energy efficiency (up to four times more efficient than Energy Star requires), is individually hand-balanced for wobble-free performance, includes a handy remote, runs whisper quiet, and comes crafted from materials like glossy, glass-infused matrix composite or sustainable Moso bamboo.
Big Ass Fans claims that the lightweight, compressed bamboo they use is as strong as steel. The engineering team behind the Haiku was so so confident in this claim during our site visit that they invited our own Colin West McDonald to slam one of their airfoils against the corner of a thick table to try and damage it. Despite giving it all he's got, McDonald couldn't even make a dent in the thing. Chalk a big one up for the Haiku's build quality.
In reality, the new Haiku is just that same, old, ooh-and-ahh-worthy Haiku from 2012 with the SenseMe smarts added in for an extra $150. If you're already committed to splurging on a Haiku, spending an additional $150 for a full suite of connected smarts actually seems reasonable.
Those smarts include the aforementioned motion- and temperature-sensing capabilities, along with the kind of learning capability that allows the Haiku to adapt to your cooling needs over time -- similar to what the Nest offers.
Like a smart thermostat system such as the Nest, the Haiku knows how to respond to temperature changes in your home. Aside from monitoring the temperature levels at the ceiling, it uses laser-based infrared sensors to monitor the temperature at floor level, too. This gives it an accurate overall sense of the climate situation in a given room (the engineers at Big Ass Fans call them "microenvironments").
From there, the Haiku will do its best to keep temperatures where you want them. If things get too hot, it'll automatically start spinning its airfoils faster. If you leave it on overnight, it'll recognize when the temperature drops and turn off automatically -- which means you won't have to worry about waking up with the shivers.
There's also the option of integrating an 800-lumen LED light into the fan for an additional $95. For those keeping score, that would bring the total price up to $1,140, and would bring some added smart features into the picture. For instance, you could schedule that light to turn on randomly while you're away on vacation to simulate occupancy, or to slowly fade on in the morning to help make 6 a.m. less unbearable. The Haiku with SenseMe is also capable of waking you up using its built-in alarm, or by simply spinning the blades at a gradually increasing intensity.
Another unique feature that I'm a fan of is called "Whoosh." Turn it on, and the Haiku will begin randomly adjusting its speed using smooth, subtle gradients in order to simulate a pleasant, ever-changing breeze. That's a nice, creative touch, as far as features go, and one that gives the impression that the team at Big Ass Fans put a lot of thought into making this product as worthwhile as possible.
All of the smart features are packed into the Haiku's iOS app, which I got the chance to play with in the Big Ass Fans lab. I came away impressed with the intuitive, easy-to-use controls, and with how responsive things seemed. I also liked the sheer scope of control you get over the Haiku -- from the fan to the light to the beeps to the blue LEDs that shine in the center to indicate speed, you're able to customize all of it to your exact liking, making for smarts at their most luxurious.
Of course, this will mean little to Android users, as the Android version of Haiku's app won't be ready for the product's launch, currently scheduled for the end of July. The team at Big Ass Fans tells me that the Android app is still 6 to 12 months from completion -- though they also insist that it's closer to six. I can just hear a collective "Gee, thanks" from Android users now, and I can't say that I blame them.
The very idea of a connected ceiling fan seems obvious in hindsight -- after all, Aros was an instant best-seller on Amazon when it debuted this spring, and Google figured Nest's value at just north of $3 billion. The demand for smart climate control is clearly there, so sure, why not add smart ceiling fans into the mix? As the first one out there, the Haiku with SenseMe merits attention -- and as the ones to build it, Big Ass Fans deserves credit.
Still, that price point bucks the trend of an increasingly accessible smart home. At $1,045, this particular smart fan won't ever be a mainstream hit, but instead, a high-end status symbol for upper-crust ceilings. There's nothing wrong with that, but I know that I'll likely be waiting for Big Ass Fans to pack that SenseMe technology into a more affordable model -- or, for the competition to take notice and do the job for them.