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Umbrellas in the Mesh

      Net-working in the rain,
      Net-working in the rain,
      What a glorious feel-ing,
      I'm con-nected again...


Okay, this has to take the Jaffa Cake as the most unusual wireless application we've seen... this week at least.

Umbrella.net, a developing research platform at the networks and telecommunications research group at Trinity College Dublin, is working on a project that uses Bluetooth-enabled umbrellas to form ad hoc wireless mesh networks that promote "sudden, striking, and unexpected connections between people in public and urban space." [Ed. note: bloody students, eh?]

In other words, create spontaneous wireless mesh networks that form when people put their umbrellas up -- and end when the rain stops.

This kind of mesh technology allows the devices themselves to act as nodes. passing data back and forth in an ad hoc setup, without a fixed connection to the wired Internet -- unlike the majority of commercial mesh products available.

The umbrella prototype laid out on the site calls for an umbrella with an embedded Bluetooth module in the cover, with sensors to detect if it is opened (natch!) and a PDA that runs the networking software attached to the handle. Oh, and it lights up when it connects to other umbrellas in a node! [Ed. note: just yer average $5 corner deli raincatcher then... ]

But wait, you say, surely this is nothing more than a few fusty academics drawing on the backs of old envelopes?

Well, think again, cynic. The umbrella mesh network is almost here... in, er, a limited way.

"We're developing the umbrellas now," Umbrella.net's Johan Brucker-Cohen says, in an email reply to questions. "The software has already been built for PDAs."

The completed item will be shown off at Spectropolis in New York in October.

So what can you do with your rainy-day mesh network when -- and if -- it's active?

"We have a chat program running now," says Brucker-Cohen. He says that more applications will follow, although not for this version of the project.

Messaging in the rain.

Doesn't quite have the same ring does it?

— Dan "Sudden, Striking, and Unexpected Connections" Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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