Scientists have come to the realization that it might be possible to use the batteries in smartphones to accurately predict the weather. Along with this discovery comes an attempt from scientists and developers to find a way to crowdsource smartphone battery information into a weather prediction service.
Tiny temperature sensors are put onto the batteries to monitor the temperature of the battery itself and prevent overheating, but apparently this technology also reveals information about the environment surrounding the phone.
Once the information from hundreds or thousands of these smartphone batteries is combined, a relatively clear picture of the coming weather around the country is possible. Sure, there are already weather stations in most areas but they tend to be inaccurate and slow, whereas a crowdsourcing service could prove to be more effective.
How It Works
Now that researchers realize that virtually every smartphone is capable of becoming a mobile thermometer, they have also found a way to link together the collected data. Smartphone owners using the Android platform can download OpenSignal. This application allowed the researchers to collect data from phones in eight major cities and could eventually use it for an even greater prediction service.
Using the participating smartphones that were running OpenSignal, researchers predicted the temperatures in each city within an average of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit from the actual temperature. Since they were working with a limited number of devices and they are still working out the system, readings should improve as more people join in.
Data was collected from Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City, Moscow, Rome, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, and the results were reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
"While each of the cities already has established weather stations, according to the new method's creators it could one day make predictions possible at a much finer scale of time and space than is currently feasible," the organization said in a statement. "Whereas today, weather reports typically provide one temperature for an entire city and a handful of readings expected throughout a day, the technique could lead to continuously updated weather predictions at a city block resolution."
Correlation Equaled Causation
The project to use smartphone batteries as weather detectors came about as a side effect of trying to find out if batteries in 4G phones ran hotter than 3G phones. OpenSignal co-developer James Robinson found no connection but began wondering if he could find out a correlation between battery temperature and something else.
Eventually, he collected the temperature readings of batteries in smartphones around London and found a connection between the air temperature of the city and the smartphone batteries.
While there are many things that can cause the data collected from smartphone batteries to fluctuate, such as what someone is using the phone for, Robinson worked around that. By taking the information from thousands of phones in the city he was able to create an average that scientists then used to connect to the air temperature.