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Drones and the weather

Three robots that help us understand the weather


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, April 11, 2014, 2:40 PM -

Every day, robots help us understand the world a bit better.

Here are three that are furthering how we interpret, and distribute information about, the weather.

1. NASA WEATHER DRONES

Storms can have a devastating effect on a community.

For years, researchers have been trying to find effective ways to warn the public about severe weather -- leading to the development of civil defense sirens, most commonly seen in tornado alley in the U.S.

Now, researchers at Oklahoma State University are hoping to take weather forecasting one step further with the use of drones.


RELATED READING:NASA creates super robot dubbed Valkyrie


Courtesy: NASA

Courtesy: NASA

Unmanned aircraft is being designed to fly into severe storms and collect data that will be sent back to meteorologists and first-responders in real time.

Capable of flying for 30 hours at an altitude of 21,000 metres, the drones -- which are controlled from a laptop or an iPad -- can cover the Atlantic and Pacific basins in one trip.

In the long-term, forecasters hope the technology will enable them to accurately predict the strength of a tornado as well as the exact course it will run.

While the drones are still in the preliminary stages of development, they already represent a huge step forward in the world of weather forecasting.

2. QUAKE BOT

Quakebot isn’t sophisticated enough to predict seismic events, but it could change the way breaking news is disseminated, especially in relation to the weather.

When a Magnitude 4.4 earthquake rattled the city of Los Angeles in mid-March of this year, the L.A. Times was the first to break the news.

Within three minutes of the event, a story had already been published to the newspaper’s website courtesy of a computer algorithm called "Quakebot".

The program is the brainchild of L.A. Times journalist and computer programmer Ken Schwencke.

Every time an alert comes in from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) about an earthquake above a pre-determined size, Quakebot will take relevant data from the USGS report and add it to a pre-written template.


READ MORE:Earthquake rattles Los Angeles


The story is then added to the L.A. Times content management system, where a (human) editor can push it to the web, distributing the information to potentially millions of people in an instant.

That's pretty impressive for a computer program, but Schwencke doesn't think that robo-journalism will be replacing human jobs.

"The way we use it, it’s supplemental. It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting,” he told Slate.com.

NEXT PAGE: POLLEN-COUNTING PODS

THE POLLEN ROBOT

In 2009, Japanese weather forecasting company Weathernews began distributing the “Pollen robot”, a colourful pod that monitors the amount of pollen in the area and issues colour-coded warnings, based on a scale of one to five.

The spheres were distributed and installed in homes across Japan. Data collected by the bots is sent back to weathernews, which makes the information available online.


RELATED:See The Weather Network’s pollen report for your community


“You cannot really see pollen, but these detectors help you find out the exact pollen levels at a particular location at a particular time," company spokesperson Naoko Tani was quoted as saying.

The technology appears to be working. Allergy sufferers have reported the information collected by the pods allow them to better plan their day -- particularly during spring, which is the height of pollen season.


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