Smartphones could provide weather data in poor nations

Smartphones can now be used to collect weather data such as air temperatures through WeatherSignal, a crowdsourcing app developed by UK start-up OpenSignal.

This helps crowdsource real-time weather forecasts and could one day help collect climate data in areas without weather stations, its developers say.

Once installed, the app automatically collects data and periodically uploads them to a server.

The app’s ability to record air temperature is based upon the discovery that the temperature of a smartphone battery correlates closely to the surrounding air temperature, published in Geophysical Research Letters.

But these sensors do not provide a direct air temperature measurement — due to heat being emitted by both the smartphone and its user. So the researchers used a model that estimates the outside temperature based on smartphone readings.

The fact that battery temperature correlates with ambient air temperature was discovered by accident, James Robinson, one of the authors of the paper and co-founder of OpenSignal, tells SciDev.Net. The team was researching energy consumption in relation to poor mobile network signal, a condition that is known to reduce battery performance.

The data came from eight major cities around the world covering a wide range of climate zones, and including Buenos Aires, Mexico City and São Paulo.

Developing countries often invest fewer resources in collecting weather data.

Enzo Campetella, an Argentina-based meteorologist and WeatherSignal user, tells SciDev.Net that although the app has potential, “there are still several stages to accomplish” before it is completely reliable for use in meteorology.

Source: Laura Garcia | SciDev.Net