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Throwing shade: The robotic umbrella that knows where the sun will be

The developer is exploring routes to market in the UAE for a 2018 launch

Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News


Whilst most people don’t associate hi-tech self-learning robots with garden furniture, that is exactly what Californian start-up ShadeCraft is hoping will capture the imagination of the Middle East buyer.

The company’s flagship product, the Sunflower, a large sun umbrella, learns where the sun will be and autonomously moves with it to keep the person sitting underneath it constantly in shade.

Solar-powered, the Sunflower is packed with technology, including computers and artificial intelligence. It is voice controlled, and features Wi-Fi and multiple sensors to report on things such as air quality, and whether the owner has been in the sun for too long.

Exhibiting at Gitex Technology Week, ShadeCraft, which was founded by US entrepreneur Armen Gharabegian, is already in talks with several retailers and distributors to establish a clear sales strategy for the Middle East, the founder confirmed.

Speaking to Gulf News in an interview, Gharabegian said he hoped “to have a solid distribution agreement for the UAE by February 2018,” so that his company can begin to “deliver products by July or August”.

“We have an agency that is arranging all of this, but we’re open to analysing [different routes to market],” Gharabegian said.

The company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Foundation to help educate university students on high-end industrial design with electronics, the founder noted.

Asked if designing the product in California made it suitable for the similarly hot Gulf months, Gharabegian responded that the Sunflower had been tested in conditions that were “intolerable” for humans, at temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius, so he was confident it would be perfect for Dubai’s 50 degrees Celsius summers.

Aseem Prakash, a leading robotics expert, said previously the Sunflower was the first product he had seen in many years that was non-anthropomorphic, high design, and extremely intelligent.

“What’s special to us is taking robotics outdoors, especially with things like heat and wind. It’s easy to make a robot indoors, it’s more challenging to do it outside.”

On US President Donald Trump’s removal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change in August, Gharabegian was unfazed.

“Not everything the government does I agree with … But I am extremely optimistic about the trajectory of renewables and clean energy despite that,” he said.