Track Air Pollution With This Smart Umbrella

This Arduino- and LED-equipped umbrella gathers data about local air pollution levels. Designers want it to trigger a worldwide movement.

What if your umbrella could help protect the world from air pollution while it protected you from rain? That’s the goal of the Sensing Umbrella, created by Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design students Saurabh Datta, Akarsh Sanghi, and Simon Herzog (who happens to be filmmaker Werner Herzog’s son), along with Giorgio Olivero of ToDo Design in Italy.


The team collaborated with Massimo Banzi, the co-founder of Arduino, to equip The Sensing Umbrella with an Arduino Yún micro controller, which measures local carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution levels. As eye-catching as it is technologically advanced, the umbrella then visualizes this data in real-time through a sparkling LED light display on its surface. Firefly-like lights change their color and rhythm in response to local pollution levels, spreading awareness of the air quality to city dwellers. This timestamped and geolocated data gets uploaded to the Cloud–to pollution databases–to be analyzed. “With multiple umbrellas around the city, we hope to generate local maps of air pollution,” Sanghi tells Co.Design. This information will be openly available on a web-based platform.

It’s the rare piece of wearable tech that aims to do greater social good, rather than just quantify and improve our individual selves. “As designers, we wanted to embrace this ongoing revolution of ‘The Internet of Things’ with a clear mission: to actively care for the people who use these connected devices,” Sanghi tells Co.Design. They wanted to design a tool to help people unlock new ways to serve fundamental needs, such as physical and mental well-being, security, and connection. Brainstorming, they came up with the idea of turning a mundane object into a powerful tool for crowdsourced data.

“This project is entirely based on open-source hardware and software,” Sanghi says. The team doesn’t plan to monetize the project or open a company based on the concept. Instead, they hope to create a worldwide event, or movement, in which crowdsourcing data via umbrella turns every person in society into a node in a larger network. So each person would gather and share information about pollution, for the greater good. They’ve decided to make the entire design and software open source, so that others can leverage the idea and share information publicly.

It might be the first umbrella design we’ve seen that’s truly magical, notwithstanding Mary Poppins’s flying umbrella, Hagrid’s umbrella (a magic wand), and Rihanna’s Umbrella of undying friendship.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.