I'm impressed by the technological leaps and bounds that drones have made over the past few years, but until today, I haven't had much interest in owning one. I have no need for aerial photography, and I'm happy to leave racing through psychedelic neon courses to the pros. But a hands-free umbrella that autonomously follows me through the rain? This is a technological breakthrough I can use.
A Japanese company, Asahi Power Services, believes there's a big market for self-propelled umbrellas, not only as a way to stay dry in a downpour while staying glued to your phone, but also as an easy way to beat the heat on a sunny day. The Free Parasol, as it's being called, will use a camera and AI to register, track and autonomously follow a user's head.
It's relying on technology that's already in use with autonomous drones like the Skydio R1, so the concept isn't totally out-there, but there are some design hurdles to overcome before everyone is walking around with a floating dome over their heads.
The current prototypes of the Free Parasol weigh around 5kg and have a flight time of just 20 minutes. Your morning commute may be a lot longer than that, but the umbrella's designers are confident they can reduce its weight to a lighter 900g and expand the flight time to at least an hour.
That will certainly vary depending on the weather, however, if the gadget has to battle the constant downforce of falling rain, and the winds that usually accompany a storm.
The Free Parasol is expected to be available as soon as 2019, which seems optimistic, and will come with a bleeding-edge price tag of around $US275 ($363). At that cost, it's not the most expensive umbrella you could buy, but it's still a device you wouldn't want to leave behind on the subway. Although, this might one day be the first umbrella to autonomously hunt you down if and when it's forgotten somewhere.