New app from IBM can warn of bad weather even when network is down

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A hurricane is on its way and it would be sensible to get out of its path. But the Internet is down, and you don’t know it’s coming to rip the roof off your house.

This is a more likely scenario in developing nations than we’d like to imagine, according to IBM Corp., so this week the company, along with its Weather Company unit, introduced an app that will inform users of bad weather approaching without their needing to be online.

Using mesh network technology, the app will send information to smartphones using peer-to-peer connections. The technology, according to IBM, could help save lives in nations where cellular networks can be congested and unreliable. IBM explains how the peer-to-peer network works: “Each smartphone becomes a node that stores the message and passes it to the next nearest device, creating a daisy chain to reach more devices and remove the need for a cellular network.”

Bijan Davari, an IBM Fellow and vice president for next-generation computing systems and technology at IBM Research, believes the app could play a vital role in emerging nations, saying the app could “offer a critical and potentially lifesaving capability to hundreds of millions of people around the world.” It’s available for Android devices in the Google Play store, though only in 42 emerging markets across Asia, Latin America and Africa.

In places such as India, flash-flooding is a common problem. Cameron Clayton, chief executive of The Weather Company, said in a statement that a warning about an upcoming flood could be a “potentially lifesaving alert.” In other cases, it might just allow people to place sandbags and bring the dog inside.

 

This means nothing if you don’t have a phone, of course. Fortunately, the spread of smartphones throughout the developing world has been quite rapid. With the number of ultra-cheap phones out there – including India’s $4 gadget – the new app may find a ready audience.

Photo courtesy of IBM