The umbrella is easily one of the world’s most ubiquitous items—with a functionality nobody ever seems to really question. Despite the frustrations it may bring us on an especially windy day, we accept the modern design of the umbrella as the definitive answer to our rain-protection needs. Sure, we’ve got a few different options, but the varieties available on the market today mostly adjust the size of the umbrella, not the engineering behind it.
So maybe what the umbrella needs is a complete overhaul, a total revamp. That’s the theory that drove Taiwanese students Lin Min-Wei and Liu Li-Hsiang to develop their ingenious new project: the Rain Shield. Their redesign, which relies on a curved steel wire, a telescopic rod and waterproof cloth, re-imagines the umbrella into more of a shield-like apparatus. Like a traditional umbrella, it protects the user’s head from rains falling straight downward, but adds a crucial new component: a vertical panel to protect against strong winds and sideways rain.
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This simple but innovative project landed the students a Red Dot award, a prestigious international prize in the world of product design. Of course, the major breakthrough here seems to be the the rain-protection technology itself. But the product’s extreme portability must have also played a role in earning the highly sought-after award. It collapses and folds into a compact, soft disc, easily thrown into a handbag or briefcase. Some of today’s umbrellas do condense into compact little bundles, of course, but how functional are those tiny umbrellas in major downpours? (The answer: not.)
As of now, Rain Shield remains in the conceptual stage, and thus, only a few mock-up versions (like the one in the above video) currently exist. So unfortunately, you can’t run out and buy one in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. But with the Red Dot award under their belt, the designers could eventually be on their way to realizing the Rain Shield through the complete stages of production. And if Sandy’s unrelenting rains and harsh winds leave enough people frustrated with their ordinary umbrellas, the Rain Shield could be upon us very soon.