Assignment 5: Rain or Shine?

The just in time umbrella indicator

You’re in a hurry on your way out the door for the day. You grab your keys, your wallet, your phone, and head for the door, but then you freeze… is it going to rain today?

Your bag is already stuffed to the max, and you don’t want to have to carry around an umbrella just in case, so you stop, pull out your phone to find the weather app, and look to see what the day has in store for you.

There’s 16 new notifications, and one of them distracts you just long enough for a new one to pop up telling you that you’ve missed your bus before you get a chance to discover that you’ll need that umbrella while you stand out in the rain waiting for the next bus to get you where you’re going 20 minutes late.

What if your stuff knew when you would need it. What if you immediately knew it was going to rain right as you reach for your umbrella, or better yet it pointed you to grab your sunglasses instead.

There is plenty of information available these days, but we always have to go hunting for it in a haystack of apps and notifications.

In the future we can teach our devices (not just our phones and smart devices) to fetch that information for us, and instead of just notifying us, they can take physical action in the real world. Instead of pestering us every time they have new information, or waiting for us to ask for it, they can present it at just the moment it’s needed.

You don’t care if it’s raining until you are about to walk outside, and you shouldn’t stop to check on your way out the door.

The Prototype

To demonstrate the basic idea of this type of physical indicator, a servo motor points at either your sunglasses or your umbrella based upon the message it receives from a weather API like Dark Sky. The response is parsed, and the device is sent a simple string saying either “sunny” or “rainy”. Based on that feedback it points either to the umbrella or the sunglasses.

Here’s a video:

The wiring and code are very simple in this prototype, but to implement the more futuristic versions described above wouldn’t really require much additional wiring or code.

The only pieces required are to embed a haptic motor, micro-controller, battery, and transceiver into the device. Inexpensive controllers like that already exist, but are not yet ubiquitous.

The other half of the equation is a system capable of taking in all of the IoT data in your environment and on your person, and understanding the bigger picture of what combination of triggers should wake up your umbrella just as you’re walking out the door. Smart home devices are getting closer to this every day.

Code + stuff:

The wiring is straightforward. Just a standard servo connection.

Author: Matt Franklin

I'm a recovering engineer + sales guy... BSEE from UMD 2004, and then 15 years of working with signal processing, AV, control systems, networking, and other gadgetry (mostly B2B). Now I'm in the Master of Human-Computer Interaction program, graduating in August 2020. I have pretty solid experience with: - Linux - audio - video - rs232/422/485/midi/dmx protocols - sketchup and other cad tools - soldering - music (mostly guitar, but others too) - general troubleshooting - networking (wired + wireless) - signal processing - streaming video/audio - python I have some experience with or am mediocre at: - woodworking - welding - laser cutting - sewing - reverse engineering - ML (none really but I'm currently in a class) - some javascript - rusty with C++ and Java, but used to be decent - tube amplifiers - RF

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