Weather data currently comes from high-altitude locations, and rarely reflects conditions on the ground with a high degree of accuracy. Boston-based startup Understory wants to change that, and a new seed round of $1.9 million led by True Ventures, and including RRE Ventures, Vegas Tech Fund, SK Ventures and Andrew C. Payne will help the company deploy a network of ground-level weather stations that do more than just radar-based weather system detection.
The startup’s hardware can detect rain, hail, wind, humidity, ambient light and more as they move through an area, which offers up data that companies can then use to track weather in real-time and anticipate needs in terms of committing resources to an area after or during a storm, for instance.
“As an example, our first customer is an insurance company, American Family Insurance, and they’re looking at fixing their claims process,” explained Understory founder and CEO Alex Kubicek in an interview. “So right now, they don’t really have a lot of ideas about how many claims adjusters to send out in a storm, so they may sound 100 people out when they really only need 50.”
Understory’s data provides a way to eliminate that kind of cost and budgeting problem, and also allows companies like insurance providers to be proactive rather than reactive. Kubicek explained that with the information his startup provides, insurance providers could potentially see bad weather developing and reach out to its clients in advance, offering to send out adjusters to check out damage before clients even call in to make requests, which he says could improve customer satisfaction.
Other potential applications in the future include helping to inform models that might actually improve prediction of weather systems, so that you could perhaps better anticipate events like a tornado touching down.
“We use a solid state sensor that’s able to sense wind, rain and hail in three dimensions, and with wind that means not only north, south, east and west but also updrafts and downdrafts,” Kubicek said. “With that, you can see how much energy is being exchanged between thunderstorms and understand if it’s going to grow and shrink, and also understand where a tornado might touch down in the next half hour.”
The startup is kicking off deployment of its first network in the Kansas City area for American Family Insurance (ideal because of its tendency to experience frequent severe weather events), but other potential future clients include media companies like broadcasters that provide forecast information. Basically anyone whose business is affected significantly by weather conditions on the ground could be a client for Understory’s data and insight in the future, however.
Other startups are leveraging sensors in smartphones, including barometers, to provide a crowdsourced picture of weather more reflective of conditions on the ground, but Kubicek says those efforts are actually complimentary to his company’s. There’s probably even an opportunity for Understory to partner with startups gathering that kind of data in the future, to provide a more complete picture of what it’s like outside right now to both consumers and businesses.