When the sun isn’t shining, this patio umbrella looks pretty much like any other. But as soon as the first rays come out, the umbrella starts to change shape: In about 20 seconds, it fully expands into a cloud-like form to shade anyone sitting underneath. On top, a solar panel generates power to run a fan inside the fabric, keeping the umbrella extended until the sky gets cloudy again.
"We like to design kinetic products," says Wouter Widdershoven, co-owner of Toer, the Dutch studio that designed the Cumulus Parasol. "In nature everything moves, grass waves, birds fly, and we interpret all these dynamics around us—but exterior products usually stand still."
The shape of the umbrella was also inspired by nature. "The power of solar energy inspired us to design this synthetic cloud," Widdershoven says. The form is aerodynamic, so the umbrella won't blow over in strong winds, and the fabric is waterproof, so it can last as long as possible.
Even though the design uses renewable energy, there’s no obvious green benefit; after all, the typical outdoor umbrella is cranked open by hand. But the designers say the Cumulus is a reminder of our connection to the environment. "It displays what the power of solar energy can be in your direct environment," Widdershoven explains. "It makes you aware of the power of the sun."