It’s raining in Yokohama right now. I’m about to go pick up lunch, though, which means that when I head out the door I’ll need to take my umbrella, which is a cheap collapsible model I bought for 500 yen (US$4.60).
But should I decide to upgrade, a team of engineers in China is developing an umbrella that shields you from the rain not with a sheet of flimsy nylon, but with blasts of air, in the form of the aptly named Air Umbrella.
The high-tech umbrella is the brainchild of a group of aerospace graduates from Nanjing and Beijing Universities. The developers have already succeeded in making a working prototype, which is shown in this promotional video.
The air umbrella unit is shaped like a plastic club. As a matter of fact, when not being used to keep you dry, it looks like just the sort of thing to go out and hunt Woolly Mammoths with.
But when you hit the power switch located at the base of the unit, the motor comes to life, creating gusts of horizontally blowing air that repel raindrops and create a dry circle with a diameter of about one meter (3.28 feet).
With their design successfully tested, the Air Umbrella team is looking for funding through a Kickstarter campaign. With 10 days left to go, the project has already reached more than double its initial goal of US $10,000, but interested parties can still pledge money and receive one of three Air Umbrella models.
The least expensive is the US $118-Air Umbrella-a. At 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) long and 500 grams (1.1 pounds), it’s also the smallest and lightest of the lineup, which the designers say makes it ideal for female users.
If you want to keep the rain off yourself like a man, ponying up $128 gets you an Air Umbrella-b, with macho specs of 50 centimeters length and 800 grams weight. Grrr. Finally, the top-of-the-line Air Umbrella-c costs $138, extends from 50 to 80 centimeters, and weighs 850 grams.
Power comes from a lithium battery, which takes up most of the space in the unit. Due to its compact dimensions, the Air Umbrella-a can operate for just 15 minutes without needing a charge, whereas the b and c versions can last half an hour.
As such, they aren’t the best choices if your daily commute involves a lot of walking outdoors, since as cool as you’ll look deflecting rain with blasts of air, you’ll look decidedly less stylish when the battery dies and you get suddenly drenched. Still, an Air Umbrella could be a practical choice if you’ve got just a short dash from the station to your school or office. There’s also the video’s promise that the engineers are currently working to “improve the appearance, handness, and battery life” of the product.
▼ If there’s one thing every consumer product needs in order to succeed, it’s handness.
Still, there’s something we can’t help being concerned about. If the air being blown out by the unit is strong enough to keep you dry, surely it will be flinging all of that water onto the people around you?
The designers say rain is deflected by 50 to 70 centimeters, depending on the size of the drops, and assure us that “If two persons are more than two shoulders away from each other, they will not affect each other.” Okay, we guess we feel a little better now, but still, if you work or live in the big city, there’re plenty of times where you’re closer than that to your fellow man. Shouldn’t we worry about the people we pass by on a crowded sidewalk?
Not at all, says the Air Umbrella team!
“Also, nearby pedestrians will also take umbrellas if it is raining heavily. In this way, the rain will not be blown to other pedestrians. If nearby pedestrians do not take umbrella and close, they will be affected more or less, but they will get wet in a rainy day if not taking umbrella anyway.”
See? Those schmucks are already hosed, so there’s no need for even a pang of guilt as your fire up your Air Umbrella.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until October 25, and delivery is expected in December of 2015.