There’s no better teacher of design and engineering than Mother Nature herself. Within the anatomy of a bird’s wing lie the mechanics to crafting a flying machine. The process of photosynthesis provides a model for using the sun to split water into oxygen and hydrogen for fuel cells within a synthetic silicon device. The tiny hairs on the feet of a gecko serve as inspiration for medical bandages, adhesives, and even equipment that allows humans to climb walls. Biomimicry and bio-inspired design help us take our inventions to the next level, leading to incredible innovations across a broad range of professional fields.
So it’s no surprise to find all sorts of creations providing shade and solar power more efficiently through the study of sunflowers. The “Sunflower” umbrella by Shadecraft is just the latest object to follow the sun as it arcs across the sky each day. Extending the “internet of things” smart home system to the outdoors, this umbrella does a lot more than you might imagine. For starters, the shade it provides moves to keep you cool all day long, so you’ll never have to get up and move yourself.
In addition to tracking the sun, the Sunflower harvests solar energy via photovoltaic panels and stores it to power itself. It fully charges within two hours, and thanks to its incredible battery capacity, it can function for 72 hours without sunlight. The Sunflower connects to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular data to offer users a strong internet connection outdoors.
You can use the Sunflower as a charging hub for your devices, and it’s got built-in lighting and speakers, too. That’s definitely a bonus for those of us who tend to lug a lot of stuff outside when we want to spend some time reading and relaxing. An integrated 360-degree high-definition camera captures security footage in the form of video and still images, so you can connect it to indoor security systems and keep an eye on your yard when no one’s home.
An accompanying app allows you to control all of the Sunflower’s functions right from your smartphone, or you can use voice control to deliver verbal commands. Talk directly to the Sunflower to control its movement, lighting, speakers, and other features. You can even use it to video chat with friends or livestream your activity. To top it all off, the Sunflower also functions as a weather station. Embedded sensors and motion detectors allow it to monitor weather conditions like humidity, wind, and even air pollution levels, sending alerts to your phone to keep you updated.
“Through the SmartShade app and integrated Wi-Fi, Cellular, or Bluetooth connectivity, you can play your iTunes library or jump to your favorite music app and stream directly through your SUNFLOWER,” explains Shadecraft. “Audio books, podcasts, live events, all at the touch of a button or via simple voice commands. SmartShade also controls SUNFLOWER’s lighting system. Four powerful LEDs with intensity settings you can control and schedule for optimum outdoor experiences.”
“With SmartShade, you can access insights into your outdoor world, and set up notifications & alerts — so you’ll know when to seek shade or ‘step outside’ and experience a perfect day.”
Winner of the IDA Gold Award 2017 and nominee of the Twice VIP Awards in outdoor automated devices, the Shadecraft Sunflower made its public debut at CES 2017. The company has already raised $2 million from private investors to fund production, and the Sunflower is set to be available for pre-order this fall for around $2,700, with orders expected to start shipping sometime next year.