Originally published by me at (re) New Media Art (see it there)

Technologies: Bluetooth modules, DAWN Mobile Ad-Hoc Networking Stack, iPac Pocket PCs with 802.11b and Bluetooth, microcontrollers, sensors, Umbrellas, UMBRELLA.net software
Current URL: n/a (no response for http://www.spectropolis.info/umbrella.php)
Wikibook Chapter: https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/Jonah+Brucker-Cohen+and+Katherine+Moriwaki

A project conceived by Engineering PhD students Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki at Trinity University (Dublin), UMBRELLA.net experimented early with networks operating with real objects that changed based on proximity to other similar objects. 

The umbrellas, connected via Bluetooth and what was then miniature PCs, and thus become a public performance art:

When a participant in UMBRELLA.net opens her umbrella, the computer seeks to establish a wireless network connection with other computer-equipped umbrellas in the area. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) illuminate the umbrella, indicating the connection’s status: red when trying to connect and blue when connected. The hand-held computers include a text-messaging application and feature a graphical interface that identifies participants by name.

These are certainly done easier today with smaller embeddable technologies and concepts of Internet of Things. Would the dynamic then encourage participants to see out others to connect with? What was the significance of the umbrella going dark?

The original URL http://www.mee.tcd.ie/~moriwaki/umbrella redirects to Kathleen Moriwaki;s current site. There is more information on the portfolio of Jonah Brucker-Cohen, described there as “Exploring coincidence-based network formation” including a photo of the hardware that fit around the shaft of the umbrella:

The “performance” is driven by a shared transient need to deal with rain (emphasis added)

In Dublin, Ireland, rainfall is frequent and unpredictable. Often individuals carry umbrellas with them in case they are caught in a downpour. It is common to witness during a sudden and unexpected flash of rain, a sea of umbrellas in the crowded streets sweeping open as raindrops first hit the ground. This collective, yet isolated act of opening an umbrella creates a network of individuals who are connected through similarity of action, and intent. The manifestation of open umbrellas on the street could be tied to a temporary network which is activated through routers and nodes attached to the umbrella, which operate only while it rains. While the coincidence of need exists, the network operates. When the necessity of action and intent ceases, it disappears. We believe these transitory networks can add surprise and beauty to our currently fixed communication channels.

The image of crowds and umbrellas took on a different meaning in 2014 with the Umbrella Movement spawned by the protests in Hong Kong — making one wonder how such a locative technology might have played a part in the actions in Hong Kong.

As another aside, this is one of five examples in the book where the original site (http://www.mee.tcd.ie/~moriwaki/umbrella) resided in the tilde space of an early personal web site. I thought there might be more in the 35 examples in this book but most of the sites are late 19902 early 2000s when web hosting had moved to more regular locations in web structures.

Umbrellas continue to be outfit with Arduino controllers that can change their color such as Leslie Birch’s FLORAbella

While the technology is more built into the device, the network effects of the original project still stand up over time.

No comments yet.

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.