Thursday, January 7, 2016

CES Is Going On, You Know

The Consumer Electronics Show is underway in Las Vegas through Saturday, although the little cable news I see hasn't had a single reference to it.  As I've said before, I've never been to a CES show because I've never worked in a business that valued the show and sent anyone (and they rarely send engineers anywhere).  I spent my career in industrial and military electronics, which is more concerned with absolute dependability than with low prices or "Wow factor".   It's still fun to read what's coming in gadgets and other home electronics, though, and I try to keep an eye on the show every year.

The little piece I've found the most interesting was a presentation by Toyota on autonomous cars and other fancy tech.
The emphasis of a presentation by Gill Pratt, director of the newly launched Toyota Research Institute (TRI), was that “We are a long way from… fully autonomous cars” that can do the “hard driving” in difficult and unpredictable circumstances that accounts for most of the  30,000 traffic deaths annually in the United States.
Pratt went on to explain something that all drivers who have been driving for 10 or 15 years know;  most driving is easy and boring.  I like to say we really just have a license to steer, because all you need to do is keep it between the lines and respect following distances.  Sometimes, though, driving gets hard and Pratt says,
“We need to solve driving when it’s difficult, and it’s that hard part that TRI intends to address.” The two top priorities for the new Toyota research facilities, funded with $1 billion and affiliated with the Stanford Research Park in California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are “teaching cars… to respond to unexpected events,” and being able to “audit the system” in a computer-intensive car when the vehicle itself behaves unexpectedly.
There's a saying which I think comes from aviation that I'll borrow here: "flying is hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror".  I think that applies pretty well to driving and the “driving when it’s difficult” that he speaks of. 

It may not be at the top of your mind that Toyota is uniquely qualified to comment on not putting a system on the market with aspects that you don't fully understand.  They had that nasty problem with unexplained accelerations that hit the company with a $1.2 Billion settlement, a recall of millions of vehicles, and a black eye on their reputation that didn't go away. 

I was surprised to find reference to a company I know from the industrial sector; I didn't know they were in the consumer market space.  Some time ago, I got an advertisement for this industrial fan company when they decided to change their image.  Originally HVLS Fan Company, an acronym for High Volume Low Speed, the air flow the fans were designed for, they sold these enormous ceiling fans for barns, factories or auditoriums.  They moved astounding quantities of air.  After new customers kept asking if they were the company that made those "big ass fans" they saw everywhere, they officially changed their name to Big Ass Fans.  For this advertising, they hired William "The Refrigerator" Perry to be their spokesman.  I should say their big ass spokesman.

Big Ass Fans is showing off a new smart fan of theirs called the Haiku which is targeted at consumer and the so-called Internet of Things.  In particular, they're trying to do something to make the "smart home" worthy of its name.  CEO Carey Smith puts it this way:
"[The connected home] is in the very early stages," Smith says, "and when people ask why hasn't this caught on, well, what the hell is there to catch on? There's nothing there. I mean, taking something off of the wall and putting it on your's a conceit to imagine that that's anything interesting or important. You aren't doing jack is what it comes down to." 
"Our view of what the consumer is actually asking for is a house where they can walk from their bedroom to their child's bedroom and there's not a 20-degree swing," he explains. "Where they walk into a dark room and it's automatically lit appropriately for the time of day, and with the minimum amount of light needed to do so, and therefore the minimum amount of energy. It's an anticipatory, responsive environment."
They plan to integrate HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) into their system, although that's not available, yet. And I'm somewhat disappointed to learn that they're adopting a more staid name for their consumer division, rather than staying with Big Ass Fans.  The consumer division is called Haiku.
The Haiku H series, 52" diameter, in polished aluminum.  That fan lists at almost $2100.  There are lower cost options. 


  1. Big Ass Fans are seen in most of the garages used in the "reality" car-build shows, like "Fast 'N Loud".

    Slow turning, quiet, and they move a ton of air!

  2. "Never send engineers anywhere"
    I got sent to Boston to assist with an ACARS installation on a DC-9 in January. At the gate, not in the hangar. 10 degrees, midnight shift. Good times.

    1. About 10 years ago, a former boss gets a call late on a Saturday night, like midnight or so. Guy says he's a VP, which is skipping like three or four levels of management. My boss is like, "who are your really?", but it was the Veep.

      A customer, Gulfstream IIRC, had a plane that they couldn't get the DME working on. It was late for delivery and since boss was a foremost expert at it, they had him flying there Sunday.

      Long story short, it was a stupid installation mistake, but they did send this engineer somewhere on the spur of the moment. Of course they send engineers places, it's just not usually any place fun!

  3. Who buys a $2100 ceiling fan? Big ass price.