An innovative prototype for an umbrella incorporating solar panels and mobile signal boosting technology has been designed and built by a team led by Dr Kenneth Tong from UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering – enabling festival-goers to charge their mobile, have good reception in a crowd and stay dry in the English summer rain all at once.
The multi-purpose design – now officially known as the Vodafone Booster Brolly – incorporates a high-gain antenna together with a low power signal repeater to boost the mobile signal of anyone immediately under or around the umbrella. The flexible solar panels stitched onto the canopy can power any mobile device through the integrated USB port.
“We’ve put in all of this technology and it looks good. In fact, it’s a bit of a James Bond umbrella – you can’t tell what it does from the outside,” said Dr Kenneth Tong, in an interview with Vodafone VIP, who approached him to work on the device because of his expertise in antennas and enthusiasm in practical engineering.
The umbrella contains the main antenna in the umbrella ‘spike’, feeding into a smaller one under the canopy. The struts which usually just hold the umbrella taut here do double-duty as a base plate for the antenna, funnelling the signal down to a booster circuit the size of a postage stamp, while the canopy holds flexible solar cells that power a USB charger in the handle. The entire Brolly will weigh only about 800g, including the extra accessories such as a rotatable phone cradle and a high brightness torch.
Working with his PhD students Allan Al-armaghany, Shashi Halai and Amin Amiri, the umbrella was taken to prototype over just six weeks through the efforts of technicians Tom Hamer and Andrew Moss, and many late nights from the whole team.
Dr Tong has plans to continue to develop the Brolly, with improvements including adding a canopy with fully-integrated solar panels, and lightening it by using aluminium in place of components currently made of brass. Future commercial developments for the brolly and the tech in it are progressing through UCL Business – keep an eye out for it in festival seasons yet to come!