The Washington Post

Greenbelt firm sees market in mobile weather data collection

Greenbelt-based Global Science & Technology is betting that companies, consumers and government agencies want a lot more information about the weather.

As businesses across industries focus on the mobile technology market, the company is zeroing in on wireless collection of weather data as a product that could prove useful to a wide range of groups.

Under a contract with the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, GST is expanding a pilot program that attaches sensors to buses to collect detailed environmental data. That data, the company says, could eventually be used to help individuals make smarter driving decisions, assist companies such as insurance firms in making business decisions and allow government agencies to monitor key infrastructure.

The Mobile Platform Environmental Data — or MoPED — system was rolled out as a $1.5 million pilot program on about 30 Greyhound buses in the Northeast. Every 10 seconds, the sensors, which are about seven inches long, read air temperature, pavement temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, light and precipitation.

The data are processed and stored on a Global Science & Technology server that can be accessed by the weather service. The information is meant to fill in gaps in existing weather reporting, such as areas of rain undetected by radar or underobserved areas such as valleys or mountains.

After a nine-month prototype, the company won a new $2.8 million contract with the National Weather Service and NOAA that will expand the initiative to 2,000 buses nationwide.

Though the effort is still in its early stages, Global Science & Technology is forecasting a much larger market. In particular, the company is hoping its previous experience spinning off a technology from government to commercial use will once again pay off, said Brian Bell, GST’s vice president for innovation. Previously, the company came up with a communication protocol for NASA that it then spun off into a company developing protocol for radio and wireless markets, among others.

It’s not unusual for companies to develop products for government use that then become commercially attractive, said Trey Hodgkins, vice president for national security and procurement policy at IT trade association TechAmerica, citing global positioning systems as a relevant example.

In the case of MoPED, the company has seen interest from businesses in the insurance, energy, construction and security industries, among others. The company expects the data to help produce better forecasts, detailed and real-time weather reports available on phones or in-vehicle systems.

Additionally, the initiative could expand to even more vehicles, including mail trucks or school buses that travel extensively, said Paul Heppner, program manager for MoPED.



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