I was just contemplating my next project when an admirer of my previous FLORAbrella said, "Wouldn't it be cool if the umbrella could tell you whether it was going to rain or not?". That's really not so crazy, as I had thought about linking to the net to gather info anyway. So, here I am again with my mind racing and research brewing for another umbrella, one that will have a handle that lights up to indicate the weather forecast -- perhaps yellow for sun, blue for rain, and red for all out emergencies, like in the movie 2012. Actually John Cusack's character would have found such an umbrella quite useful. All kidding aside, there are some interesting challenges when dealing with umbrellas.
Umbrellas have to withstand violent weather, they must remain waterproof, and be easy to carry. So, one of the major challenges is keeping parts dry. In my last umbrella, I had the majority of parts under the top dome, but they were still exposed. I'm sure the new waterproof coatings would be helpful, however, a best case scenario would be to house parts entirely in the handle. Another challenge is keeping connectivity to fetch data. Usually things are WiFi or Bluetooth. In fact, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is gaining in popularity, because supposedly it is easier to work with. Unfortunately, these choices aren't necessarily small. They usually require a shield, there are just a few companies even offering tiny versions, and they are so new that they lack a track record. Also, in the case of WiFi, you may not be in an area with service, or you may not be able to access the controller to change the WiFi zone from the one back at home. So, it is definitely going to be an interesting problem to solve. Either way, I'll have to remove the handle in order to 3D print one to hold the circuitry, and that is yet another issue. I've been talking with manufacturers, and so far the plastic handle with a tiny screw seems obsolete. Most mini umbrellas are a pressure fit with some glue these days. So, that means I have to risk damaging the shaft to remove it. Like my previous umbrella, the handle will probably need to come apart in order to access the battery.
So, with all of these issues there is a silver lining. First, I've already found some code that may help, and second, I have two leads on small controllers that have connectivity built in. So, in the next couple of days I hope to narrow down my choice and get started. I have a feeling that my first prototype will use WiFi and a fairly normal umbrella. However, I'm hopeful that my second version will use BLE and the Porsche of umbrellas -- a Senz. These things are guaranteed at certain wind speeds, which is just crazy cool! I just have to figure out how to melt their darn handle off. Anyway, stay tuned, we're in for some stormy weather with the promise of sunshine later in the project.