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When I Look at the Invisible Umbrella, All I See Are Flaws

The umbrella is ripe for a disruptive redesign, but this probably isn't it.

Some technology is neutral, taking on the douchiness of its user, while some technology is douchey in its very design. I'm pretty sure the "Air Umbrella," an invention that just passed its $10,000 goal on Kickstarter, falls into the latter category. The basic principle of the thing is to blast water away from the user and onto everything else. Including, perhaps, you.

Is there anything more ripe for a disruptive redesign than the umbrella? I like the umbrella as much as anyone, save perhaps Rihanna. I love popping it open, the sound of raindrops hitting it, that debonair feeling of sharing one while walking down the street. Even the fun business of shaking it off while obligatorily commenting on how "it's really coming down out there" when you get indoors—I like it all.

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But today's basic umbrella design is the same as in the above painting from 320 AD; it looks awfully familiar, save for the servant holding the thing.

The basic umbrella is a flawed technology. Think of all the dripping, the way an errant breeze flips it inside out, and the difficulty of navigating a crowded sidewalk when everyone has their umbrellas out and it almost doesn't seem worth it to keep your upper half mostly dry.

The umbrella has already been disrupted many times, of course. There's the umbrella hat, which frees the user's hands, while the jacket-with-a-hood saves the wearer the need to wear an umbrella hat and also the difficulty of navigating crowded sidewalks.

Image: maotx/Flickr

At first glance, the Air Umbrella is awesome and, if nothing else, much more futuristic than the hooded jacket. The concept is simple: It shoots out air to deflect drops of water. It's like a forcefield! It can't pop inside-out due to a breeze! It's also not an umbrella hat!

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm didn't even last as long as the Air Umbrella's battery life, which is only half an hour. It's hard enough to remember to bring an umbrella, much less remember to both pack and charge one. It also still occupies a whole hand while you're walking around.

And worst of all, unlike the passive regular ol' umbrella, which might get in someone's way or poke somebody in the eye, the Air Umbrella works by actively spraying water away from its holder and, presumably, onto everyone else.

Image: Air Umbrella/Kickstarter

According to their Kickstarter, the designers of the Air Umbrella reside in Nanjing, China, which has a population of 8 million. Granted, it's about half as dense as New York City, where umbrella jockeying is a silent yet highly competitive sport. But I can't imagine the residents of any city are interested in getting spritzed by the fan you're walking around with.

Which is to say, neither the classic umbrella, nor jackets with hoods need to look over their shoulder anytime soon. Which is good, because that's hard to do in a jacket with a hood.