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.
The app, the company notes, works best on a Samsung Galaxy S4, which is the most souped-up of all Android devices right now, “and other higher end Android phones will have a lot of the same features as well…but all Android devices released on will at the very least be able to contribute temperature readings and manual weather reports.”
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.