Browsing in the rain
The internet of umbrellas
The World Wide Web entails one major problem: in order to access it, you have to be computer-literate. The personal computer is still the most important device for accessing the Web, and even in a developed region like Europe only half of the people know how to handle a PC. However, other means of access are gaining ground. Web-enabled smart phones, navigation systems, and personal digital assistants are becoming ever more popular. And the next technological wave is already around the corner – the Internet of Things.
The vision of the Internet of Things includes that all types of durable and non-durable consumer goods, like cars, washing machines, cameras, milk bottles, and bananas, will be connected. Science Fiction? Not if you ask Sho Hashimoto and Takashi Matsumoto from Keio University in Japan – their media-design research team invented the first Web browser umbrella, called Pileus, the Latin name for cap. Their ideas was to brighten up cloudy days for the user, by giving him a multimedia-based, socially interactive experience, while he is walking through the rain.
Photo-browsing with Pileus
Pileus is an umbrella equipped with a camera, a projector, a laptop, and a Wi-Fi connection. Its main purpose is to share photos with friends via the Flickr photo-sharing Web service. Pictures downloaded from Flickr are projected to the ceiling of the umbrella. On top of the umbrella is a camera, whose pictures are immediately uploaded to the Flickr service in order to share them with friends. The release for the camera is integrated in the handle of the umbrella.
What do you do with such a networked umbrella? The Japanese researchers imagine a scenario like this: you are strolling through the rain, protected by your Pileus umbrella, when you see this fellow coming along with his funny dog that is wearing a red and white, polka dot bodice. You take a picture and send it to Flickr so your friends can share the funny sight. Then suddenly, thunder and lightning appear as images on the ceiling of your umbrella in order to enhance a text alert saying: “Your train leaves in five minutes”. Via the Google Maps service and a GPS receiver, you get a surround map and the fastest way to the train station.
Umbrella with adverse effects
So, the Pileus umbrella appears like a gadget with a high coolness factor. However, it is still a prototype, and the current experimental design would certainly cost a few points on the coolness scale. The umbrella weighs 2 kilo, mainly due to the projector. In addition you would have to carry a notebook in your backpack, which adds another 2 kilo. However, the weight problem looks solvable, as miniaturisation of computers and projectors is steadily progressing. More serious design issues are durability, usability, and safety.
The built-in devices have to be waterproof in order to survive splashes of rain. Another issue is, how safe our streets and pedestrian zones will be, if everybody is running through the rain, eyes focused to the ceiling of their umbrella. In combination with simultaneous mobile phone calls this could be a safe way of increasing the turnover of doctors. Even without painful encounters, the unnatural neck posture while viewing photos on the umbrella ceiling could help to fill the waiting rooms of orthopaedists. In short: browsing with your umbrella may have some undesired adverse effects, which to avoid may require some more ingenuity by engineers.
Weather forecast umbrella
A more modest approach in connecting has been pursued by US-based gadget company Ambient Devices. They developed a connected umbrella called Ambient Umbrella that lets you know when rain or snow is in the forecast by illuminating its handle. Different light patterns of the blue LEDs at the bottom of the handle indicate rain, drizzle, snow, or thunderstorms. The umbrella automatically receives local weather data from weather forecast service AccuWeather.com through some wireless link that is not specified by the producer. The idea is to see from the blinking pattern, whether it is necessary to take the umbrella with you, before you leave the house.
The usefulness of this gadget is rather doubtful, and it is unknown how many Americans have already invested the more than 100 dollars for the “glowing intelligence” advertised by the umbrella producer. However, the latest examples of connected umbrellas show that there is a huge scope for connecting everyday devices in order to spread the benefits of ubiquitous network access beyond the limits of those metal and plastic boxes we call computers.
Further information: Pileus website: http://www.pileus.net Ambient Umbrella web page: http://www.ambientdevices.com/products/umbrella.html
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