Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Outdoor air temperature in central London, as measured based on an app that monitors smartphone batteries (Credit: OpenSignal)

You probably never think about the temperature of your smartphone’s battery, but it turns out to provide an interesting method for tracking outdoor air temperature. It’s a discovery that adds to other evidence that mobile apps could provide a new way to measure what’s happening in the atmosphere and improve weather forecasting.

Startup OpenSignal, whose app crowdsources data on cellphone reception, first noticed in 2012 that changes in battery temperature correlated with those outdoors. On Tuesday, they published a scientific paper on that technique in a geophysics journal and announced that the technique will be used to interpret data from a weather crowdsourcing app. OpenSignal originally started collecting data on battery temperatures to try and understand the connections between signal strength and how quickly a device chews through its battery.

OpenSignal’s crowdsourced weather-tracking effort joins another accidentally enabled by smartphones. A project called PressureNET that collects air pressure data by taking advantage of the fact many Android phones have a barometer inside to aid their GPS function (see “App Feeds Scientists Atmospheric Data From Thousands of Smartphones”). Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, is working to incorporate PressureNET data into weather models that usually rely on data from weather stations. He believes that smartphones could provide valuable data from places where there are no weather stations, if enough people start sharing data using apps like PressureNET.

Other research suggests that logging changes in cell network signal strength perceived by smartphones could provide yet more weather data. In February researchers in the Netherlands produced detailed maps of rainfall compiled by monitoring fluctuations in the signal strength measured by cellular network masts, caused by water droplets in the atmosphere.

So far, neither PressureNET nor WeatherSignal–which also measures pressure and light intensity in addition to the battery trick–have enough users to significantly impact the world of weather tracking and forecasting, but the potential seems to be there. Data gathered from smartphones has enabled Google and others to track traffic and congestion more accurately than ever before (see “Android Helps Google Grow Its Traffic Surveillance System”). It’s possible to imagine weather getting a similar treatment.

2 comments. Share your thoughts »

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me