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Next time you want to communicate electronically and it rains, just bring your Bluetooth-enabled umbrella. At least in Ireland, where a Trinity College project called Umbrella.net is exploring the idea of ad-hoc networks to connect people in urban space. The Irish researchers say they want to examine how unpredictable patterns of weather and crowd formation can act as an impetus for ad-hoc network nodes that can spontaneously form and dissipate based on weather conditions.

The idea isn't as bizarre as you may think: ad hoc or mesh networking is a fast growing research area. With a point-to-point or point-to-multipoint transmission one can create low power communications networks that will operate in an industrial environment for years on a single battery. Applications currently under development include process monitoring and control, asset tracking, and patient monitoring.

UMBRELLA.net will exist as an ad-hoc network, where data is passed between individual nodes within signal range of each other. The prototype will include handheld PocketPC (iPaq) computers that interface to the umbrella and only communicate with each other when the need exists: When rain is present and other nodes exist in close proximity.

But the story doesn't end there. When they are searching for a node, the umbrellas will blink red. When they are within an active node but more than one hop away, they will either blink or pulse blue. And when they are within a node and within one hop of every other node, they will light up as solid blue. Unfortunately, the illuminating process isn't outlined, so our guess is that the researchers haven't figured that one out yet.

Although it may be the daftest idea ever to come out of Ireland, the researchers believe multi-hop dynamic routing ad-hoc networks provide a compelling area of telecommunications which have yet to be fully explored. Present mesh applications remain staunchly focused on emergency or military applications, but using your Bluetooth umbrella, you could route maps of each individual's journey or enable music sharing. And of course where else than in in Ireland, where punters often carry umbrellas in case they are caught in a downpour. ®

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