Based in Hong Kong, the Umbrella Here project has developed smart umbrellas that light up when owners are up for sharing their cover with strangers.
There's a notion that humans — especially those in big cities — don't do enough to be nice to each other on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it's an unwritten rule that most urbanites should avoid eye contact and generally ignore one another unless absolutely necessary. Schemes such as Pittsburgh's Here You Go, which we wrote about back in 2010, have aimed to tackle this problem by giving out free umbrellas on rainy days in return for another random act of kindness. Now the Umbrella Here project has developed smart umbrellas that light up when owners are up for sharing their cover with strangers.
Currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, the system works through a donut-shaped device featuring color LEDs and Bluetooth connectivity. When it rains, the device is designed to be fixed to the top of any umbrella. Users can pull up the companion mobile app to turn the light on, which shows passersby that the umbrella is available for sharing. Strangers can get saved from a drenching, while umbrella owners benefit from both good karma and a way to meet new people.
The app tracks the number of times they use their umbrella to help a stranger, and also logs the route of each journey. If the stranger is also an Umbrella Here user, those sharing cover can later find each other by typing in the location and time they met, and continue the conversation online. Using the same GPS technology, owners can also track down their umbrella if they've lost it or left it behind.
When the device is not in use, it can be detached from the umbrella and placed on a desk as a weather indicator — turning red when it's warm outside, blue when it's cold and blinking when it's raining.
Watch the video below to see the device in action:
Although the project will most likely require a critical mass of users in order to be successful, those in the network will benefit from helping others and also meeting new people. The Umbrella Here device is currently available for an Early Bird price of USD 20, and the campaign runs until 17 September. Are there other objects that could use smart technology to make them more social?