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Weekly Innovation: An Umbrella For The Modern Age

Justin Nagelberg uses the Sa umbrella in New York City. By replacing the metal skeleton with two canopies, the design is lighter and has more headroom. Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg

Justin Nagelberg uses the Sa umbrella in New York City. By replacing the metal skeleton with two canopies, the design is lighter and has more headroom.

Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg

Everyone hates the sheer agony of an umbrella flipping inside out in a windy rainstorm. Even with the best umbrellas, this happens all too often.

Justin Nagelberg feels your pain. His new umbrella, the Sa, totally shakes up the umbrella's tired design. To put the project in motion, Nagelberg teamed up with Matthew Waldman, founder of the New York design lab Nooka, whom he met at a design conference in Tokyo a few years ago. Pledges to help fund the project have reached nearly $60,000 on Kickstarter, almost twice the original goal.

"I kind of felt like the normal umbrella structure was so complicated and so ugly," Nagelberg says. "I wanted to update that for the modern era."

It's just like "sewing machines or devices that were built like a hundred years ago and we haven't really modernized them yet," he adds.

The Sa completely shakes up the umbrella's centuries-old design. Based on origami, the Sa has inner and outer canopies that expand and retract in unison. The inner canopy replaces the inner metal skeleton, making the umbrella lighter and allowing for more headroom.

The umbrella is made out of waterproof plastic and is flexible enough that it will bounce back in high winds.

The Sa's inner and outer canopies expand and retract in unison. Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg

The Sa's inner and outer canopies expand and retract in unison.

Courtesy of Justin Nagelberg

"It's really durable because of the truncated hexagon shape," Nagelberg says. "It works somewhat like a pyramid. The planes also stop the structure from expanding beyond its fully open size. This is exceptionally strong when wind comes from underneath the umbrella, making it really hard, if not impossible, to blow inside out."

Six guide panels along the outer edges of the canopy protect the umbrella in strong storms.

"Also, the controlling arms, those six long, narrow rectangular planes, can be reinforced to really ensure a strong structure," he says.

For anyone who has ever struggled getting an umbrella opened and closed, the Sa is also one of the first umbrellas to use an internalized mechanism instead of having locking points along the stem. The umbrella is opened by twisting the bottom of the handle and closed by pulling the handle outward. Magnets embedded along the panels close it tight.

Nagelberg says the Sa should last a long time because it is made out of recyclable plastic and has no exposed metal that could rust.

Because of the origami inspiration, the name "Sa" comes from three Japanese words: "kasa," which means umbrella, "same," which is a word for rain, and "sasu," which is the verb used to describe holding an umbrella.

Nagelberg began designing the Sa a few years ago because he was frustrated with the problems of traditional umbrellas. Once he had the idea, it took him four months to develop the prototype.

"I had the idea a long time ago to make an umbrella that would rotate when you open and close it," Nagelberg says. "I wanted shapes that would use panels in a way that would create motion."

The Sa will be launched in March 2015 and will cost $89, Nagelberg says. [An early limited edition sold for $69.] If they reach $100,000 on Kickstarter, he would like to start work on a simpler, compact version.

"It would be ideal for unexpected rainstorms or just people who want to enjoy the design but can't afford the price of the standard version," he says.

In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.

Samantha Raphelson is a digital news intern at NPR.org. You can reach out to her on Twitter, where she is often tweeting obsessively about the Foo Fighters and the Phillies.

Clarification Oct. 23, 2014

A previous version of this post said the Sa will cost $69. A limited edition version for early Kickstarter pledges was offered for $69, but the standard version will cost $89. Developer Justin Nagelberg says he also hopes to create another version for under $20.

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