OpenSignal Launches WeatherSignal, Using Its Crowdsourcing Cell Phone Coverage Tech To Tackle Meteorology

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Technology

20130508-204019.jpg OpenSignal, the UK startup that has made a name for
itself with its Android and iOS apps that crowdsource
cell phone coverage based on data picked up from
users’ devices, is branching out into another area that
consumers love to obsess about: the weather. Today,
the company is launching a new app for Android devices, WeatherSignal, which takes data gathered
from different sensors, such as light meters and
barometers, which come as part of a smartphone’s
hardware, to create real-time, crowdsourced pictures
of what the weather is like on a hyperlocal scale. Brendan Gill, the CEO and co-founder of OpenSignal,
describes WeatherSignal as a “side project” at the
moment, leveraging the platform that they have built
out for OpenSignal itself. “We got into this after seeing what you could do with
the sensors on devices using the barometer on
devices, which lets you measure humidity,” he told
TechCrunch in an interview. The idea was also helped along by an accidental
discovery that Gill and his team made: as part of their
larger look into device diagnostics and how they
might use them, OpenSignal found that they could
measure the ambient temperature around a particular
device based on the temperature of the device’s battery. “We ran an experiment and looked over a large
number of people where we saw that it correlated with
temp around the world,” he says. They have since
written an algorithm that describes how this works,
and they are collaborating with scientists based at the
Royal Meteorological Institute of the Netherlands on an academic paper around this, which is under
general submission right now. While OpenSignal itself has a clear path to a
business model right now — run as a free consumer
service, the diagnostics can potentially also get
collated, in an anonymized way, and delivered to
carriers either to improve their own cell phone
coverage, or for competitive intelligence against others (no announced customers yet) —
WeatherSignal is at a much earlier stage in its life. “We are just focused on consumer traction,” Gill says.
“To be honest the simple plan is that we don’t have a
grand monetization plan for the weather at all right
now. It’s not a market that we know that much about
but the premise is that we can make better weather
predictions.” Plus, he points out, it’s relevant to so many types of businesses. And, as I’d point out,
weather is a perennial favorite app category for
smartphone users. This also points to a wider ambition for the startup,
backed by O’Reilly AlphaTech Venture, Passion
Capital and Qualcomm Ventures, for what they plan
to do with their business longer-term. “The vision is
that we want to be a data company,” Gill says. “Lots
of companies are gathering crowdsourced data from mobile devices these days. We think our solutions
are effective because they are far more scalable and
passive. We don’t ask a lot of people in order to
source what becomes rich data.” He says they are
not currently seeking any further fundraising at this
time to further build out this strategy. As with OpenSignal, WeatherSignal will be focused
on anonymized data, and users can opt out of
contributing even that, relying instead just on using
the app based on other users’ data input. Gill and his
team are working on an iPhone version now, too.

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