By reimagining the humble umbrella, a Kiwi engineer has shown how clever innovation and great design can transform something mundane into something special.
If you ever doubted innovation could make significant improvements to everyday items that we take for granted then you should learn more about the inspiring story behind the development of the amazing Blunt Umbrella. And once again it is Kiwis showing the world how to make the ordinary both extraordinary and incredible.
We met Greig from Blunt in July last year after an insightful presentation he and business partner Scott gave for the 'Unleash Your Potential" lecture series at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Auckland University Business School. Greig is a mechanical engineer who, living in London, realised not only did sharp umbrella tips poke you in the eye if you are taller than most but the streets were awash with broken umbrellas that were made to be cheap rather than reliable. So began his quest to re-imagine and re-engineer the humble umbrella.
The Blunt Umbrella is a lesson in design innovation. To work, umbrellas require an articulated framework for structure covered by a canopy to shed water. Sounds simple until you realise that rain usually comes with wind and most umbrellas simply turn inside out if the wind is much more than a breeze, and this often damages the framework beyond repair. Greig has taken this problem and built an integrated umbrella system that allows Blunt Umbrellas to perform in conditions where others fail.
The Wall Street Journal has said, "Structurally the Blunt falls somewhere between suspension bridge and NASA space probe". Wired says, "Its architectural integrity is as unbroken as the dome of St. Peter's".
Greig achieved this by making the usually passive canopy an active part of the umbrella mechanism. He redesigned the umbrella's frame to feature telescoping ribs that extend radially outwards driven by a clever lever mechanism as you open the umbrella. This system is completed by ingenious tensioning devices on the end of each rib. These are the brilliance of the Blunt as they radially tension the edge of the canopy making it far more rigid and able to withstand the pressure changes that impact on the canopy as the wind blows across it. These are the same forces that allow aeroplanes to fly and in extreme cases tear roofs off houses in storms.
So what can umbrellas tell us about predator control? We think quite a lot. Blunt Umbrellas lie at the nexus of creative design, clever engineering and clear focus on solving the problem at hand. They also look great! We are inspired by their achievements and hope to follow the example they have set and the trail they have blazed. They are in the same vein as other amazing Kiwi innovations such as John Britten's motorcycle, Alan Gibbs' amphibious vehicles and Team New Zealand's foiling yachts. Greig and his team at Blunt have created an elegant solution to bad design and in the process are improving our world one umbrella at a time.
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The familiar saying "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" warns about the risks that come with trying to achieve more by challenging the status quo.