Crowd-Sourced Weather Mapping

01 July 2013

Citizen weather

At least 92% of adults in the UK use a mobile phone and as the figure for users with smartphone devices is expected to pass the 50% mark any day now, finding good uses for data pooled from our phones, looks like a smart move. 

Avoiding the pitfalls of subjective weather reporting, London-based OpenSignal were inspired by the increasing number of high-tech sensors in our smartphones to measure air pressure, humidity and the Earth’s magnetic field to envisage phones as mobile weather stations. 

They have launched an online service, dubbed WeatherSignal, that crowd-sources meteorological data from android smartphones and maps it online, so we can potentially find out what the weather is actually doing right now in our local park. 

Part of a big process

Building on their previous app, which collects mass data on mobile phone coverage around the world using battery temperature data, the logical next step was developing the algorithm to average out battery temperature readings and turn them into readings of ambient temperature. The algorithm works when it’s averaged over an area of a large crowd of users. It has to be part of the bigger process. Samuel Johnston at OpenSignal explains ‘It is helping to show what the weather is like for everybody. So if we have 100 users for London, we can gather the temperature accurately for London. It’s an averaging mechanism, so for each individual phone it may not be accurate.’

Collective good

One of the pages in the app is a world map so you can search for any location and get readings in real-time about the weather. Johnston says, ‘we are building this big crowd source map so if we don’t have any users we don’t have any data so for now it’s all about building up the number of users we have and working out what we can do with this information. We are trying to improve the app and build up as big a database as we can.’ 

The concept of crowd-sourcing data has been around for a while. What’s exciting about this, according to Johnston, is that people don’t actually have to do anything. They are very excited about this idea of passive crowd-sourcing. And the more people who use the app the better it will work for everyone.

Learn English Science Actitvities

Why not do a language activity based on this cubed story, Crowd-sourced weather mapping?