Are you curious about your neighborhood’s weather and tired of receiving general citywide reports that don’t apply to your exact location? It turns out there’s an app for that, and it uses the guts of thousands of smartphones just like yours to innocuously crowdsource up-to-the-minute weather about specific locations.
Weather researchers from the Royal Meteorological Institute of the Netherlands, Wageningen University, and MIT along with smartphone developers hashed out a plan to use the OpenSignal smartphone app to generate better weather reports. OpenSignal takes readings from your smartphone’s internal thermometer, which is used to measure the battery’s temperature and prevent overheating. By monitoring the temperature of thousands of phones running the app in eight global cities, researchers will able to calculate temperature averages within 1.5 degrees celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of on-the-ground readings.
Current weather reports can be wildly inaccurate because they take data from just single source. Although these weather-measuring instruments are usually hyper-accurate, they only take readings from a single location, often the closest airport. This one measure is then used to generate a citywide weather report, even if the city is miles across. Moreover, few of these instruments exist outside of dense urban areas, meaning suburban and rural reports are even less accurate.
As more people use OpenSignal app, not only will temperature accuracy increase, but the readings will be localized (even in less populated areas) and up-to-the-minute, which can only make life easier for trend-reading meteorologists.
“The ultimate end is to be able to do things we’ve never been able to do before in meteorology and give those really short-term and localized predictions,” said James Robinson, cofounder of OpenSignal, in a press release. “In London you can go from bright and sunny to cloudy in just a matter of minutes. We’d hope someone would be able to decide when to leave their office to get the best weather for their lunch break.”
It’s a little creepy to allow meteorologists to access to your phone’s exact location and temperature, but OpenSignal says that of its 700,000 users, 90% opt-in to data collection. The large sample size is essential for eliminating outliers: When measuring temperature, for example, a phone might run hot while playing a labor-intensive 3-D game, so larger numbers allow for statistical accuracy. Unfortunately, the iOS versions of the app do not allow the widespread data collection that the Android permissions allow, preventing the collection of temperature data.
Newer smartphones have come out on the market with dedicated air temperature, humidity, and pressure signals. In response, Robinson and his team released WeatherSignal last May, which they hope to use to build a completely crowdsourced weather network, something that will probably pay more dividends than finding the perfect window to jet out for a lunch break.
[Image: Flickr user David Goehring]