Monday, October 4, 2010

Is this umbrella optimally designed?

Building retail pricing products for a living, i spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing online deals. And you get to see lots of innovative new gizmos on sale. The umbrella shown in the video below was on sale and caught my attention.

It was introduced in the market a couple of years ago and has won multiple design awards. It's aerodynamic and looks like a bicycle helmet extended into an umbrella. I checked out the wind tunnel tests - impressive. It doesn't turn inside out. It's got an eye-protective design built-in and also provides better frontal vision. If you are a geek, you'd feel that you would never want to be caught under the old dome again. It is well-marketed. Check out these product stress test videos. I mean the 300 Spartans could have survived using the Senz as a shield.

Let's apply some practical OR tests.

First look at the actual human feedback at There aren't too many data points sadly. Some like it and some don't. Next we look at the analytics hidden inside the design of the umbrella. We also examine its external functionality. A really nice analytical innovation allows the umbrella to not fight the wind but mildly orient itself along the path of least resistance. Several stress tests empirically prove this.

Conclusion: Handles wind really well and better vision, so you don't feel like you are in a tent.

However, there's something missing in these tests. Let us turn to robust optimization analysis. All the talk is about gale force winds, wind tunnels. etc. What about some simple vertical rain at terminal velocity? How would it perform in Cherrapunji, India or the town of Mawsynram in the nearby Indian state of Meghalaya, which received 1000 inches of rain in 1985. How does it handle those good old pesky, incessant drizzles?How about sleet and randomized rain loads? How about the inevitable sidewalk drenching from the tires of a car on a wet road?

Conclusion - It appears that it is does not perform the basic, everyday function of an "umbrella for a rainy day" as robustly as it tackles wind. There are a couple of feedbacks in Amazon which highlight this basic limitation.

Question: In a randomized rain situation, can i run in a straight line with an aerodynamic umbrella like the Senz to introduce a favorable directional bias in the forces and improve its rain-performance?

Note that when it is steadily raining, and without an umbrella of any kind, the amount of water that your body/dress absorbs is practically the same, whether u walk or run to cover a fixed distance.

In many places in the world, people regularly use an umbrella to block out the hot sun. Since the total area is relatively smaller when compared to the traditional umbrella, it covers less.

Conclusion: less protection against the sun.

Finally, the most interesting comment was a person who said two people couldn't fit under this umbrella. It's going to be a disastrous end to a date when your partner is under your aerodynamic umbrella and getting all wet in the rain.

Final conclusion: The old dome is on average, more robust for most normal rain/sun/slush situations, and is much less expensive. The inner geek will compel you to get a Senz for the cool wind analytics. Or if you are some weather channel tv journo who shows up in hurricane/tornado hit areas. But guys, don't take the Senz with your girlfriend on a rainy day, and certainly not your wife (and most certainly not both - under any umbrella. sorry, couldn't resist).

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