A few days back, the European Space Agency (ESA) released a new Android app that will turn your smartphone into an instrument for crowdsourced science. All you have to do is leave it by your window each night with your sat-nav (or satellite navigation) positioning turned on. Your phone will record small variations in satellite signals – through this new app. The data you collect and upload could help scientists create better weather forecasting models, among other things. Here’s how.
What is this new app?
The CAMALIOT app, developed through ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme (NAVISP) with the support of the Agency’s GNSS Science Support Centre, is compatible with more than 50 smartphone models, which are equipped with dual frequency sat-nav receivers. The data gathered by the app will be used for machine learning analysis of meteorology and space weather patterns. CAMALIOT is run by a consortium led by ETH Zurich in collaboration with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
How does it work?
It’s pretty simple. Once you download the app from the Google Play store, all you have to do is click on ‘START LOGGING’ to collect the data from satellites. If possible, place your device somewhere with a clear view of the sky. You can click on the ‘STOP LOGGING’ button to stop the session. You can then upload this data to the app’s servers and repeat the same steps to log more data. Users can even see where they stand in terms of the number of observations and data uploaded through an in-app leaderboard system.
Why do scientists need crowdsourced citizen science data?
The Global Navigation Satellite System (or GNSS) is a set of satellites that orbit the Earth - the Global Positioning System, developed by the US, and the European Union’s Galileo are two prominent examples of such satellite systems. The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (or IRNSS) is another example, which is expected to be expanded in the future. It currently covers India and a region extending 1,500 km around it.
Thousands of permanent GNSS stations continuously record sat-nav data. As the satellite signals travel down to Earth, they get modified by the amount of water vapour in the lower atmosphere. This helps to forecast rainfall, for example.
However, GNSS satellites also provide valuable information to many different location-based applications – be it the sat-nav in your car or your smartphone. Scientists can also use this data for research. The raw GNSS data from your Android smartphone, combined with the data already being received by the GNSS stations, will help in increasing the area of coverage.
How will this data help scientists?
For one, by using crowd-sourced GNSS data from many smartphones around the world, scientists will have better inputs for weather prediction models so that local rainfall events are forecast more accurately. They will also use the GNSS data to improve predictions of space weather – for example, events that can disturb our communication systems due to solar flares.
Finally, what’s in it for me?
This not only gives you a chance to be part of a citizen science initiative but there’s also the possibility of winning prizes such as a dual frequency Android phone and Amazon vouchers. This four-month citizen science campaign runs until the end of July.
Also read: How a citizen’s group in Bengaluru is battling climate change