Nest, the maker of a "learning thermostat" that controls the temperature at home while adapting to people’s habits and preferences, has recently been courting developers of other smart consumer devices so that its parent company, Google, can become the gateway to the physical world as well as to the Internet.
Already, Nest devices can integrate with "smart" LIFX light bulbs, Mercedes-Benzes, Whirlpool washing machines, and Jawbone wearable activity trackers. Through its Thoughtful Things Fund (not making that name up), Google’s venture capital group is even offering funding to entrepreneurs to help "bring their conscious home ideas to life."
It’s not clear how much people are really demanding, say, a garage door that communicates with their thermostat. But Nest’s latest partnership with the company Big Ass Fans (also not making that name up) is a more interesting one for homeowners, because the integration could save a lot on your summer air conditioning bill.
By circulating air, even the lowest-tech ceiling fans can cool a room and allow you to turn down the AC. But most people are lazy and don’t bother to turn on their fans, or if they do, they run a fan only when not using an air conditioner. But a fan and an air conditioner that talked to one another and both automatically adjust to your temperature preferences? Now there’s the potential to run the thermostat at a higher temperature, compensated by the cooling effect of the fan.
That’s the idea behind the partnership announced today between Nest and Big Ass Fans, a 15-year-old company based in Lexington, Kentucky.
Big Ass Fans started life as the HVLS Fan Company, but as lore has it, later changed its name when customers would often comment on its, indeed, big ass fans, which were originally designed to efficiently cool large industrial spaces where air conditioning was not feasible. (They come as large as 24-feet in diameter.) With aerodynamic air foils and ultra-quiet, efficient motors that were developed by an in-house engineer, its market soon expanded to churches, schools, and most recently homes, with the introduction of a notably smaller model.
The Haiku, as the residential product is called, uses only two to 30 watts of power depending on the speed—less than an incandescent light bulb. CEO Carey Smith claims Haiku is the most efficient ceiling fan in the world, and it has the EnergyStar ratings to prove it. "If every ceiling fan in the country used the technology, it would be like we would eliminate Connecticut from the grid," he says.
In June, the company announced a new Haiku "smart" model, with embedded sensors and a CPU that turns the fan on and off automatically when a person enters or leaves the room. Like the Nest, it also adjusts the fan’s speed depending on the room’s current climate and preferences it learns over time from the user. Smith says the Haiku would allow residents to raise their thermostat setpoints by six degrees and save 30% on air conditioning costs at the same level of comfort. For the average home, this translates to annual savings of almost 600 kilowatt hours or $78 based on current electricity rates, and more than 800 pounds of carbon dioxide.
The problem is that to get these benefits, a person has to manually adjust the thermostat. With the Nest integration via a smartphone app, the fan and AC can work together in concert without any input from a human.
The company thinks there’s a large potential market, given that there are 300 million ceiling fans in the U.S.—an average of three to four per home. Haiku fans without any smart technology have been on the market for several years and almost 60,000 have been sold so far. "Everyone talks about the smart home and home automation, but 90% of that stuff is just a fancy remote control—it still requires a button on a smartphone," says David Banks, Big Ass motor and controls engineering manager. "People just want something that’ll make their life simpler."
As for the data collection aspect, Smith doesn’t think the data it will acquire from people’s fan usage will be of much value to Big Ass Fans itself, since it’s already spent so much time doing beta testing and user research. (For the people who connect it to Nest, Google will get that data too).
The Haiku with SenseME technology, as the smart fan model is called, will begin shipping this summer. For Nest owners, it will be ready to connect with a smartphone app.