Can cellphones tell you how wet it is outside? (Spoiler alert: Yes)

cell-towersWith the advent of smartphones and the all-important apps that they run, you’d be forgiven for feeling that the sheer possibilities available to us can seem overwhelming at times. Well, here’s something else that cellphones can do that’s a little out of the ordinary: Apparently, they – or, rather, cellular towers – can be used to help measure the rainfall in the immediate area, allowing meteorologists to get a more accurate idea of just how wet their country is. At least, that’s what Dutch researchers have done.

According to a report in New Scientist, a team of scientists from the Netherlands led by Aart Overeem from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute measured rainfall using information provided by T-Mobile. They do this by noting the way raindrops can weaken the radio waves cell towers use to transmit information to each other. Cell towers in the Netherlands are spaced around three kilometers (1.8 miles) apart and transmit a constant signal between each other, meaning that the traditional signal degradation tends to be uniform. Any deviation in signal strength outside of the norm is easily noticeable by someone closely tracking the data.

Overeem’s team studied signals sent between towers in a four month period between June and September 2011, with the signal strength measured every 15 minutes across the approximately 8,000 towers in the Netherlands. To put that figure in some context, the traditional rain gauges in the country measure rainfall every 10 minutes, but there are only 32 of them throughout the entire country. In other words, the information being offered is far more accurate, if slightly slower than the previous method. The result of this analysis were supported by measurements from the traditional gauges for the same time period, and formed the basis of something called a “rainfall map” of the country for the period. This gave a clearer picture of not only how much rainfall there was during those four months across the entire country, but where the rainfall had been centered.

There are real world applications for this type of technology beyond simply checking whether or not one area of Holland is wetter than another; the team from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute say that they are hopeful that some extrapolation of this technique could be useful in improving flood forecasts or providing real-time information about weather conditions in locations where traditional weather-monitoring equipment is unavailable but cell towers are prevalent (third world countries, for example).

That hope is mirrored by Mary Lynn Baeck, a hydrometeorologist at Princeton University, who told New Scientist that she believes Overeem’s approach “has the potential to give good quantitative rainfall estimates for real-time hazards forecasting, as well as regional and global climate model analysis in regions of the world where the impact could be great.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Everything we know about 'Red Dead Online', including the new mode Gun Rush

Red Dead Online will gradually rolled out to Red Dead Redemption 2 players via a beta. We've got all the details about the beta's suite of competitive and cooperative modes, as well as what to expect going forward.
Home Theater

Banish the bunny ears (and monthly bills) with these excellent HD antennas

When transitioning away from cable and satellite, finding the best HDTV antenna for your area can be touch. To help, we've compiled our picks of the best indoor HDTV antennas you can buy.

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.