FLORAbrella – Wearable Tech



This umbrella was inspired by Bladerunner and features a FLORA microcontroller and a color sensor. The owner can hold the sensor to a swatch of clothing and the Neopixel strips will match the color of the fabric. Of course people are most excited by the changing rainbow pattern, although the umbrella can also mimic a rain storm. One of the most challenging aspects of this project was figuring out the best way to conceal the electronics, yet maintain the waterproofing of the fabric. I opted for clear vinyl hammocks for the microcontroller and battery, which are able to fold onto themselves in the same fashion as the hood of the umbrella. This project was the winner of the Adafruit and Element 14 Wearables Challenge and forced me to accept that I was addicted to electronics. I started freelancing for Adafruit and created a tutorial for this very project, which includes a video by wearable tech star, Becky Stern. In order to change modes for the umbrella, I included a glowing button located on the base of a 3D printed handle. For the sake of simplicity, the tutorial dispenses with the new handle and merely incorporates a small push-button on the microcontroller, which also gets a shift to a pouch on the bottom of the umbrella.

Future Possibilities

The first use that comes to mind for this technology is biomimicry—the chameleon effect. The military is always in search of a better way to camouflage their troops and everyone wants to have Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility. A color sensor is a rather simplistic way of capturing a single color, but most likely you would need a camera to translate the surrounding environment to a controller that could render colors to RGB LEDs or the pigment of nanotech fabric. Certainly both of these options are expensive for now, but in the future nanotech seems both lightweight and less complicated.

What about camouflaging buildings or translating a swatch of color to your home’s paint? I don’t mean matching a paint chip at a store; I’m referring to the ability to update your home’s paint scheme immediately with a special paint. You could change the trim, siding and door colors to match colors of your fave photo or color palette, perhaps even with an app. There are already companies working with nano paint and in time we may be able to customize our homes by the season or holiday. Better yet, the paint color may be used to help moderate the temperature of the home—sun reflecting colors for the summer and sun absorbing colors for the winter.