How your smartphone could one day predict the weather

If there is a sensor in your phone, Nokia(s nok) EVP of location and commerce Michael Halbherr is going to figure out some way to use it. Nokia is already experimenting with camera, GPS and digital compass sensors to create augmented reality apps like City Lens. It’s using the phone’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios to map indoor locations where there’s no clear view to a GPS satellite.
Today’s smartphones already have an impressive array of sensors, which individually and in combination can be used to power a mind-boggling array of apps and services. But Halbherr has one eye wandering in search of the sensors of the future. In a recent interview, he told me the next set of electronic sensors to wind up in our phones could very well be humidity and barometric pressure meters.
Why humidity and pressure? Why to predict the weather of course, Halbherr said. “We could create super-accurate weather forecasts if sensors in phones were recording this data,” Halbherr said. Today meteorologists collect data from dispersed weather stations, limiting their ability to generate accurate and precise forecasts. But if millions of phones were transmitting real-time barometric pressure and air moisture readings, tagged with geo-location data, then the art of weather predication could become much more a science, Halbherr said.
Halbherr said it is core to his own and Nokia’s beliefs that mobile technology can be used to benefit the public good. The sensors in our phones should not only be used to collect data for our own use, but where possible should be used help us overcome society’s trickier problems.
For instance, if every phone in a car on a freeway was either communicating to a centralized database its own speed and direction data — either gathered through its accelerometer or by relaying information from the car’s onboard computer — traffic patterns could be mapped in real time on any given patch of asphalt. Feeding that information back to vehicle navigation systems, as well as traffic and public management systems, could “solve the commute problem,” Halbherr said.
The auto industry is trying to tackle the same issues by creating inter-vehicle networks that allow cars to share information via secure Wi-Fi. The idea is that cars would be able to “group think” that information, automatically coalescing into the driving formations that ensure the optimal flow of traffic. In that case, consumers aren’t just sharing information for the public good, they are also giving up control.
Halbherr said he doesn’t subscribe to any notions that personal data belongs to the state and should be wrenched from consumers’ hands. Ultimately all users control their data and they can choose freely whether to share it with one another or some central database, he said. But if a significant portion of users does choose to share their sensor data, it should definitely be put to use, Halbherr said.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user SVLuma