Smart umbrella prototype will address shortfall in expensive rain gauges

Umbrellas are set to be the next everyday device that benefits from smart technology in response to a hike in the price of scientific gauges used to collect rain data.

A Dutch scientist has developed a prototype smart umbrella that is designed to act as a rain gauge and uses a sensor to send information to a phone or computer via Bluetooth, the aim to provide a cost effective way to collect the data.

"We have radar and satellites, but we're not measuring rain on the ground as we used to; it's expensive to maintain the gauges,” Dr Rolf Hut of the Delft University of Technology told the BBC. "Therefore, agencies are reducing the number, and that's a problem for people who do operational water management or do research into hydrology because they don't have the access to the data they used to.”

The prototype, which is attached to a Winnie the Pooh umbrella and being shown off at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, is made up of components that can all easily be bought off-the-shelf. This includes the piezo sensor that is stuck to the canvas to measure the vibrations caused by raindrops, a 20-euro mobile-phone Bluetooth earpiece used to dump the sensor’s information into an app, and a smartphone to link all the data over the cell network to a laptop.

Initial tests carried out by Dr Hut during a light shower have shown encouraging results when pitted against a normal scientific rain gauge and he sees a future where the rain gauges are in at least every premium umbrellas being sold.

“If you wanted to be involved, the moment you opened the umbrella, it would start sending data to your phone which uploads it to the cloud,” Dr Hut added. "We would then have hundreds of rain gauges moving along a cityscape and that could greatly improve our ability to understand urban hydrology; it would greatly improve our ability to predict urban flooding and take measures when things are going bad."

There’s still one question that Hut failed to answer: what happens when the umbrella blows inside out?

Image Credit: BBC