How to Make Your Umbrella into a Weather Station with a Particle Photon

December 13, 2018 by Robin Mitchell

Want to get to-the-minute, location-specific weather information delivered right to your own Adafruit IO dashboard? It's time to assemble your very own SmartBrella.

Want to get to-the-minute, location-specific weather information delivered right to your own Adafruit IO dashboard? It's time to assemble your very own SmartBrella.

While some are still of the mindset that winter is coming, for me and many of my British comrades, winter is already here. It’s time to get out your coats and umbrellas; rain, hail, and snow will inevitably fall!

But we here in England, especially a maker like myself, prefer upgraded devices. Typical umbrellas are boring and pointless. In this Gentleman Maker project, we will create the SmartBrella. Why check the weather online, then hoist your umbrella overhead when you can use your own umbrella-weather station combo?

SmartBrella BOM

The Schematic

Click to enlarge.


You can check out the full schematic for this project on Scheme-It!

How It Works

The basic principle behind the SmartBrella is to combine the water resistive properties of the faithful umbrella with an IoT circuit that can take multiple readings of the environment, including the air temperature, humidity, wind speed, rain detection, and atmospheric pressure.

The air and humidity are recorded using the DHT11 sensor, which uses a single wire for communication and requires a 5.6K pull-up resistor, while the atmospheric pressure is obtained using the Adafruit barometric I2C sensor.

Detecting the wind speed is done using a small solar motor, which is attached to an anemometer. As the wind speed increases, the motor spins faster, and this results in an EMF across the solar motor, whose voltage is proportional to the wind speed.

A low inertia solar motor is chosen so that small wind speeds can be easily recorded (as the starting torque is very low). Rainfall is detected with the use of a small piece of breadboard, which has its tracks soldered into a pattern. When a raindrop completes the circuit, the voltage across the series 10K resistor increases, which can be detected by the photon.

Powering the photon requires a 5V source, and this is provided with the use of a 7805 linear regulator, which regulates a 9V battery. One optional add-on to this project would be a switch for enabling and disabling the SmartBrella to conserve power when not in use. While a number of switches could be used, two pieces of foil and wire can also be used so that, when the umbrella opens, it compresses two contacts, which complete the power circuit.

Making the Anemometer

The anemometer consists of three cup shapes connected to the central shaft on the motor. The cup shape allows the catching of wind in one direction, and having three provides consistent motion. A basic anemometer could be made out of simple materials, including cardboard and paper, but since wind is often associated with rain, it’s best that a waterproof material is used instead!

This is where 3D printers become very handy, as custom cup shapes can be printed. Many household items can work too! Plastic cups, while very large, can be used to make an anemometer, as well as cones made with sheet plastic.  


Getting Remote Internet Access

The Particle Photon is a Wi-Fi-enabled device, which means it requires a Wi-Fi connection for internet connectivity. However, the English countryside is somewhat lacking in that area, so getting an internet connection can be tricky. Luckily, modern smartphones allow us to tether, which means our smartphone can bridge internet access between our mobile data (4G) and create a local Wi-Fi network for our Photon.  

Adafruit IO

In this project, Adafruit IO is used as the IoT server that hosts our weather data. From here, we can use a dashboard to see live data, as well as historic data, in the form of graphs. This data can then be downloaded and further processed. This could help you match atmospheric conditions to recorded data and see if the weather can be predicted. However, knowing how changeable British weather can be, it’s unlikely that any prediction will ever be possible!

The Adafruit IO dashboard can also be made public, which allows anyone around the world to view the data being streamed from the SmartBrella.

The Code

If you’d like to build your own SmartBrella, you’ll need the Particle Photon code, which can be found here on Particle IO.


You’re now perfectly equipped to build your own SmartBrella! Get ready to brave wind, rain, and snow—all in the name of collecting your own batch personal readings. You may just find some patterns for your exact location.



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