Lexington, Ky.–based Big Ass Fans thinks that the residential ceiling fan should be able to think for itself. As evidence, the company fitted its Haiku fan, first released in 2012, with sensors that monitor motion, ambient air temperature, and humidity while adjusting its speed on the basis of preset and learned user conditions. Now, the company announced earlier this month, the Haiku with its proprietary SenseMe technology will work in tandem with Nest’s Learning Thermostat. The result is an old-school method of keeping cool that has been revised for the Internet-connected home.
“I always joke that I’ve been doing this for years,” says Alex Reed, the company's director of consumer product marketing. “Just raising my thermostat and then changing my fan speed as I get uncomfortable. But it’s an arduous task.” In teaming up with a smart-thermostat marker, he says, “the intent is that [when] you walk into the space, it feels exactly how you want it to feel, and it’s operating as efficiently as possible.”
The integration isn’t the only way that Big Ass Fans and Nest are working together. Both companies are part of the nonprofit Thread Collective—formally launched earlier this summer by a group of home-products manufacturers and led by Google—that is developing an IP-based, low-power mesh network through which Web-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers will be able to communicate. Big Ass Fans’ work with Nest encouraged their invitation to join the group, Reed says.
“It’s not just keeping up with the Joneses,” he adds. “It’s actually doing things with a purpose—that if this Internet of Things is going to become more than a Utopian vision for the home, then we need to create some sort of standard.”
Beyond its quip of a name, Big Ass Fans is known primarily for its high-volume, low-speed industrial fans, which are designed for use in warehouses, manufacturing facilities, sports arenas, and other high-ceiling spaces that require a large volume of airflow. Soon after the company’s launch in 1999, its industrial units’ sleek but expansive profiles and minimal noise output inspired designers to specify them—weighing more than 100 pounds and costing up to $6,000—in residences and light-commercial projects such as restaurants. “It was an alert to us that there’s an unmet need here,” Reed says. “We inventoried the existing residential fan market and it amazed us that here’s a category that’s been around for 130 years … and the fans look pretty similar to what they looked like in the 1800s.”
For its residential Haiku fan, the company shrunk and streamlined its industrial design to three airfoils whose form allows them to move through the air more efficiently than do its peer, conventional pressed-board blades. Compressed, five-ply bamboo and a more-durable, glass-infused composite finished in automotive-grade paint offer use indoors and on outdoor patios, respectively. The addition of integrated sensors and Nest compatibility, managed from a smartphone app (shown), pushes the fan into the realm of the Internet-connected home—a place where so-called “smart” products must prove their value proposition.
“Now that we can put sensors and radios in everything, there’s sort of a gold rush to do it," Reed says. "The success or failure of the Internet of Things is going to depend on people really driving that purpose, and making life easier and more convenient and not more complex."
This article has been updated to correct the location of Big Ass Fans' headquarters. It is in Lexington, Ky. We regret the error.