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WeatherSignal turns your phone into a personal weather station

What if there was a way to magically transform your smartphone into a tool for gauging the weather? That's essentially what WeatherSignal sets out to do, using the power of crowdsourcing, big data and modern smartphone technology.

Published onMay 9, 2013

Weather Signal

You pop up your favorite weather app, check the temp. You dress according, then head outside. That’s when you notice it: the trusty weather gods got it all wrong – again.

Maybe they said it wasn’t windy outside (and it it was..), perhaps they revealed it was going to be a scorcher (but it’s cold as hell). Regardless, you wish there was a better way to get accurate, local weather information. That’s exactly what WeatherSignal hopes to accomplish.

You might already know about OpenSignal, the company whose namesake app is designed to create crowdsourced maps of mobile phone network coverage. Their latest effort takes a similar concept and applies it to the weather, using your smartphone to create a bigger picture of what the weather is like around you.

How the data is gathered

Like most apps that rely on crowdsourcing, the more you put into it, the more you get out. While you are not required to contribute weather information, it certainly helps the project along. So how does it work?

First you need to download the free app from Google Play. Once downloaded and opened up, you will be greeted by a simple interface with three tabs, “Dashboard”, “Map” and “Report”.

The map tab shows a world map (shocking I know). The report tab allows you to enter manual information about rain, snow and hail. Dashboard is where most of the magic happens, as it displays information gathered from the sensors in your phone, which it can optionally share with the world around you.

Not every phone has the types of sensors needed to gather all this information, however. According to Samuel Johnston, OpenSignal’s community manager, the best phone for the job is none other than the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Using the S4, the app can get readings on temperature, light, magnetic flux, pressure and humidity. This is possible because the Galaxy S4 has quite a few unique sensors like a barometer, hygrometer, and magnetometer. Unfortunately, not even the Galaxy S4 has a way to figure out wind information.

So what if you don’t have the latest and greatest from Samsung? No worries, the app can still get basic information like temperature readings and manual weather reports.

Using a specially developed algorithm, WeatherSignal can even figure out the temperature on phones that don’t have an external thermometer. This works by using your battery’s temperature to figure out the ambient temperature around your mobile device.

While just one of these readings might not mean much, it’s all about the bigger picture that your phone helps create. OpenSignal also says they will use environmental-fingerprinting tech to figure out if a phone is indoor or out, making the data much more accurate.


Not perfect yet, but lot’s of promise

Okay, so you might not want to forsake the weather gods just yet. Right now, OpenSignal is in the very early stages of getting this project started, and since the app was just released, there are only so many phones currently contributing data.

The company is also still trying to figure out the best ways to analyze the data gathered and how to effectively translate that into real-world weather information. Why contribute if the information isn’t perfect yet? For one thing, because it has a lot of promise. For another, because it is fun, exciting and different.

Collaborating to provide weather stats on a wide-scale is a big ambition, and a concept that will only get better in time. Additionally, even though the Galaxy S4 is the only device with all the sensors needed to accurately gauge the weather, that too will change in time.

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