While mostly beneficial, smart home technology does have potential downsides: it can make us fat, lazy, oblivious, submissive and, well, dumb. But, hey, at least we’ll never get caught in the rain without an umbrella.
That’s the idea behind Raincheck, an entryway accessory with built-in smarts from Nick Jonas (the Brooklyn-based designer and “creative technologist” for Google, not the exceptionally toned pop star). A prophetic plug-in umbrella stand that’s connected to your home Wi-Fi network, Raincheck, at first glance, appears to be a traditional piece of home decor handcrafted from black walnut — simple, versatile, functional, attractive. The inside of the rectangular receptacle, spacious enough to hold up to five umbrellas and maybe a walking stick or two, is finished with protective polyurethane while the exterior is treated with Danish finishing oil.
However, one side of Raincheck is very different from the other sides — and that would be the side embedded with a strand of eight small LED lights. Each individual light represents one hour of forecasted weather. If all eight lights are a steady blue, you can go ahead and leave that umbrella be as clear skies are ahead. If any of the lights are blinking blue, you’d be wise to grab that ‘brella — and a raincoat just in case. Blinking white lights signal snow and blinking red is code for severe weather.
Of course, for the immediate weather conditions nothing beats a quick glance out the window. But for a heads-up on what those ominous-looking skies will be doing — or not be doing — in an hour or two or three, a quick glance at Raincheck serves as an alternative to fumbling around with a weather app on your phone as you’re trying to head out the front door. And that — “why have a phone tell you that you need your umbrella when the stand can?” — is Raincheck's raison d'être.
The act of not checking one’s phone, of course, served as the driving force behind Raincheck. Jonas explains:
Our phones have overwhelmingly become the source of every bit of information. After turning your phone's alarm off in the morning, you check the weather, and after you've checked your Facebook or Instagram you're answering emails from your boss before you're even out of bed. It's important we disseminate information to parts of our life where they are best fit to be consumed. And with weather, it should be in your closet, or where you take your umbrella out for the day. I think this is something that is slowly, organically happening as designers and inventors release products in the same vein as Raincheck.
Also, with internet connectivity between devices being far more achievable, objects should be redesigned. While people are probably tired of seeing a chip put in everything, we are at the brink of a design revolution. There have been many poorly designed objects, or objects that use technology just because they can, but I believe we will start seeing some beautiful, smart reincarnations of what used to be ordinary household and personal objects.
Also, people might simply just need a good¬looking home for their umbrellas.
Okay, great, but what it the forecast provided by Raincheck is way off and you wind up hauling around your umbrella all day for no good reason? (It’s indeed easier to curse at a TV meteorologist than an inanimate object, right?).
Raincheck’s data source, Forecast.io, only sets the blinking lights into action if the probability for precipitation — or snow or severe weather — within an hour period is greater than 20 percent. Any meteorological conditions with a 20 percent or less chance of occurring won’t register with Forecast.io and, furthermore, the lights on the umbrella stand will remain steady. The lights, by the way, are described as “subtle” and dim themselves after sundown.
Raincheck’s built-in forecasting system is updated via Wi-Fi (you’ll need to install a Raincheck app for ios or Android to establish the connection) every 15 minutes.
So why the eight-hour display?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for people in 2014 (isn't much of a surprise): Employed persons worked an average of 7.8 hours on the days they worked. More hours were worked, on average, on weekdays than on weekend days¬¬8.1 hours compared with 5.7 hours.
Balancing the longer weekdays with the weekends (going in and out, less structure to the day and less consistent time out), 8 hours felt like a good place to start. Having user tested it in the winter of New York, 8 hours felt right.
Earlier this week, Jonas took to Kickstarter to help elevate Raincheck from prototype to fully realized product. With a crowdfunding goal of $25,000, Raincheck appears to be off to a decent start.
As of publication, all early bird pre-orders for the $250 umbrella stand have been snatched up. However, a pledge of $299 will still get campaign backers their very own Raincheck. And for $100 more, Jonas will throw in a signed umbrella. Those interested in supporting the campaign — make it rain, so to speak — with a smaller pledge can score a lovely 8-inch-by-10-inch weather prints signed by Jonas.