WeatherCloud hopes to take data to the streets
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A new Colorado-based initiative is hoping to accomplish that feat soon. It’s an idea that many companies have applied to cellphones, but Boulder-based WeatherCloud Inc. is taking the idea to where it matters most: the road.
“Currently, weather is forecast from the top down,” said Jeffrey Martin, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We have developed the concept that it would be much better to outfit automobiles with weather sensors to report that data. They’re crawling all over the planet anyway, and they’re in the places where weather makes the most impact, which is the roads.”
WeatherCloud has developed a set of three vehicle-mounted sensors that, when placed on the windshield, bumper and tires of a specific automobile can transmit data to a wireless controller that pushes that data to a cloud-based database.
When the data is combined with data from other vehicles as well as meteorological models, it can be transmitted back to users as a warning for drivers who are about to encounter hazardous conditions.
The self-funded team refers to itself as “bootstrapped,” but WeatherCloud is starting to open up conversations with seed-stage investors.
Founded by Sun Microsystems veteran Duer Reeves, the company originated with the concept of analyzing data from the onboard diagnostics port commonly used by automobile mechanics.
However, after Reeves participated in the Energy Fellows Institute sponsored by the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, he prototyped the concept of WeatherCloud as his capstone project. This month, WeatherCloud was chosen as the recipient of this year’s Emerging Cleantech Company Award from the association.
The sensors are independently powered, so they are not dependent on a car battery to operate. They are poised to track data on a wide variety of weather and travel data, including precipitation, temperature and ambient light. Tire sensors can track speed and direction of travel as well as orientation to the road, which may offer indications of the speed and direction of crosswinds, for example. Once the aggregate data is enhanced, WeatherCloud hopes to offer it to consumers as a data package they’ve dubbed “Ground Truth.”
“We were actually scripting the video that explains the concept when we came up with the name,” Martin said. “We were coming up with long, cumbersome phrases that didn’t really make sense when someone said that the end result was to understand the truth on the ground. That’s our deliverable, no matter what the data stream or who it’s for or what it’s used for. We canonized it and submitted the trademark the very next day.”
The technology potentially has a wide variety of applications, ranging from replacing the often inaccurate road warnings broadcast by the Colorado Department of Transportation to more accurately deploying snowplow fleets or emergency personnel during significant weather events and providing local municipalities with information on potholes and other road hazards.
WeatherCloud anticipates having functioning, deployable sensor arrays by the end of the year. The next steps include developing an application programming interface that allows users to access the data from the sensors, followed by a limited test rollout. The team of four, boosted by contract programmers when needed, already is talking to potential partners such as CDOT and the Colorado Motor Carriers Association.
“We would love to talk to companies that are operating fleets in Colorado,” Martin said. “We think a really good subset would be fleets that service the ski areas from the airport because they’re driving in the conditions that we want to report on. In addition, short-haul fleets like UPS and FedEx are great because they tend to run over area wider than just the primary traffic arteries.”
The company’s business plans still are fluid, but they believe commercialization will require a user interface that works not only on smartphones but also potentially could be integrated into the kinds of in-cab telematics services commonly used by logistics companies, as well as more common in-vehicle GPS devices.
“This is a service that is really integral to the driving experience,” Martin said, “but we don’t want to create a hurdle to consumers or commercial adoption by trying to sell them one more product on top of all the other products they’re trying to manage.”
That also means licensing of WeatherCloud technology eventually could be in the cards.
“What we’re hoping to create is not just a company but an ecosystem of people who can tell us what the value of this data is and who can do interesting things with it and extend the usability of it,” Martin said. “That’s our ultimate goal in terms of what we’re hoping to accomplish. It will be a really important change in the way weather is understood when we make this happen.”
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