Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Crowdsourcing weather using Smartphone batteries (Press Release)

American Geophysical Union
AGU Release No. 13-40

The following press release and an accompanying image can be found at:

WASHINGTON, DC—Smartphones are a great way to check in on the latest weather predictions, but new research aims to use the batteries in those same smartphones to predict the weather.

A group of smartphone app developers and weather experts created a way to use the temperature sensors built into smartphone batteries to crowdsource weather information. These tiny thermometers usually prevent smartphones from dangerously overheating, but the researchers discovered the battery temperatures tell a story about the environment around them.

Crowdsourcing hundreds of thousands of smartphone temperature readings from phones running the popular OpenSignal Android app, the team estimated daily average temperatures for eight major cities around the world. After calibration, the team calculated air temperatures within an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of the actual value, which should improve as more users join the system.

While each of the cities already has established weather stations, according to the new method’s creators it could one day make predictions possible at a much finer scale of time and space than is currently feasible. Whereas today, weather reports typically provide one temperature for an entire city and a handful of readings expected throughout a day, the technique could lead to continuously updated weather predictions at a city block resolution.

“The ultimate end is to be able to do things we’ve never been able to do before in meteorology and give those really short-term and localized predictions,” said James Robinson, co-founder of London-based app developer OpenSignal that discovered the method. “In London you can go from bright and sunny to cloudy in just a matter of minutes. We’d hope someone would be able to decide when to leave their office to get the best weather for their lunch break.”

The work was published today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Smartphone sensors

Robinson’s OpenSignal app collects information voluntarily sent from users’ phones to build accurate maps of cellphone coverage and Wi-Fi access points. The app boasts about 700,000 active users according to Robinson, about 90 percent of which opt in to providing statistics collected by their phones.

Robinson originally wondered whether smartphones running on newer, 4G networks ran hotter than those running on older networks. When no difference showed up, he looked for other potential uses of the temperature information available on Android-powered devices.

“Just sort of for fun we started looking to see if there was a correlation with anything else,” said Robinson. “We got some London weather data for comparison and found the two sets of temperatures were offset, but they had the same sort of shape.”

While OpenSignal is available to iPhone and iPad users, the temperature readings on those devices are not accessible like on their Android counterparts.

Cellphone thermometers

After finding the correlation between smartphone and air temperatures in London, Robinson and his fellow developers assembled temperature data from other major cities where they had a large number of users. Comparing data from Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City, Moscow, Rome, San Paulo and Buenos Aires, Argentina, they saw the same link between the two sets of temperatures they saw in London.

“It was amazing how easily the correlation sort of popped out,” said Robinson. “We didn’t do any handpicking of data—it sort of just emerged.”

A smartphone’s environment affects its temperature, according to Robinson. On a sweltering day, a cell phone tucked in a pocket will be hotter than the same cell phone on an icy day. Weather experts helped Robinson develop a way to calculate outdoor temperatures from smartphone battery temperatures, the latter of which are typically hotter.

However, other factors unrelated to the outdoor weather can play a role. A phone outdoors running the latest 3-D game could run at 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) while the same phone idling in an air-conditioned building nearby could be only running at 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).

To avoid fluctuations in temperature unrelated to the real outdoor temperature, Robinson needed large amounts of data. While an individual phone might not provide an accurate representation of the weather, combining the readings from hundreds or thousands of phones together gives a more truthful overall picture. Currently Robinson collects over half a million temperature readings each day from users of his OpenWeather app. He said he plans to make the data freely available to academic researchers.

“There’s the wider promise when logging all this information that there will be something really interesting you can understand,” said Robinson. “The most obvious application is climate and weather tracking.”

Personal weather predictions

Currently weather tracking primarily takes place at weather stations, such as those at airports. However, weather stations provide only one point of reference and are rare outside of densely populated areas, forcing weather forecasters to fill in the gaps when making their predictions, reducing both accuracy and how specific an area they can make predictions for.

While Robinson says his multitude of mobile phones can provide large amounts of data, individual areas still need to be fine-tuned using existing weather stations before the incoming information can be usable for weather prediction.

“The challenge is whether we can take this technique and use it in places where we don’t already have reliable weather information to retune the model,” said Robinson. "That's something we're still working on."

Robinson says some recent smartphones come with built-in sensors specifically built to measure the environment around them such as air temperature, humidity and pressure. To take advantage of these features, Robinson and his fellow developers released WeatherSignal, an app built around mobile weather watching.

As these features become commonplace in the smartphone market, Robinson foresees smartphones becoming an important tool in weather monitoring.

Notes for Journalists
AGU Contact:
Thomas Sumner
+1 (202) 777-7516

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Medics’ mission to roll out cervical cancer screening in Uganda (PRESS RELEASE)

06 August 2013 Manchester University (press Release)

Academics and healthcare professionals from Manchester and London will travel to Uganda this week (6 August) to push on with ambitious plans to try to help the country’s Ministry of Health roll out cervical cancer screening to all women by 2020.

The team is travelling to the East African country, as part of the Ugandan Women’s Health Initiative (UWHI), which runs a range of projects in women's health and has a major focus on prevention of cancer of the cervix.

The initiative, a partnership between Makerere University, Mulago Hospital, Hospice Africa Uganda and University College London (UCL) which now also involves The University of Manchester, has helped screen approximately 20,000 women since its inception in 2005 – estimated to have prevented over 1,000 cases of cervical cancer.

It has the technology and the expertise, along with the commitment of the Ministry of Health in Uganda to support the drive to create a national cervical cancer screening programme across 80 centres - if the required additional funding can be generated.

Cancer of the cervix is the biggest cause of death from cancer among women in the country with over 2,400 women dying from the disease, and over 3,500 diagnosed with it, each year. But UWHI co-chair and founder, University of Manchester Vice-President Professor Ian Jacobs said work by the initiative has shown health workers can successfully apply methods to prevent the cancer by simple and cheap screening methods. Professor Jacobs said: “Cervical cancer is a major cause of death and suffering in young women – but it is an entirely preventable disease with free cervical smears and vaccinations.

“However in Uganda, without action, cases will continue to rise. Rolling out screening to all women in Uganda, as we have in the UK, is a big challenge but it is deliverable, if we can continue the collaborative team effort to raise the funds required.”

The UWHI has already set up and runs two cervical cancer screening centres in Kampala which are recognised centres of excellence in cervical screening in Uganda. It delivers activities through a small team of long-term Ugandan staff based in the country including a medical director, a programme manager and four nurse midwives.

The UK team visiting Uganda includes Shahina Mohamed, UWHI Coordinator and Operations Director at The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences; Marian Surgenor, Head of Global Health at the University Hospital of South Manchester and Anthony Silverstone, Consultant Gynaecologist from University College Hospital, London. They will have a series of meetings to discuss the next steps in the screening programme and have convened a conference for Ugandan nurses and midwives to help boost skills in women's health areas.

Miss Mohammed said: “In the past five years, many lives have been saved thanks to this initiative. It has focused on not just cervical cancer but helped provide training on how to resuscitate newborn babies and prevent mothers dying from haemorrhage at delivery. There have also been trials aiming to minimise the effects of brain injury in newborns.We want to prevent any more unnecessary deaths and suffering.

“The UWHI is a not for profit organisation and we are always seeking donations to help extend cervical screening.”


Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Press Release (Media Centre) 

President Yoweri Museveni on August 3rd, 2013, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the presence of emissaries of His Majesty Ssabasajja Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II that marks the return of Buganda’s properties to the Kingdom, at State House Entebbe.

The emissaries included Buganda’s Prime Minister Owekitiibwa Peter Charles Mayiga, Prince David Wasajja, Owekitiibwa Apollo Makubuya and Ssabasaja Kabaka’s subject Ndiwalana Hebert.

Before handing over the signed Memorandum of Understanding to Owekitiibwa Charles Mayega, the President said: “We’ve been having a long process of discussions between the Central Government and the Mengo Administration about the properties that used to belong to the Administration of the Kingdom of Buganda .

These were official estates for the Masaza, Amagombolola, properties of chiefs, markets, and a number of other properties that were taken by the provincial Government after the overthrow of the constitution of 1962.

We have been involved in long discussions. We have now agreed and signed an (MOU) that will be availed to the media in due course.

The MOU was signed by His Majesty The Kabaka witnessed by Buganda’s Prime Minister, and H.E President Museveni witnessed by Attorney General Hon. Peter Nyombi. It covers the settlement of the outstanding arrears amounting to over Ugshs 20 billion and a number of other properties. A committee to verify the properties will be set up comprising a team nominated by Ssabasajja Kabaka and the Central Government.

Buganda’s Prime Minister, Owekitiibwa Charles Mayiga, thanked the President for listening to the Mengo Administration. “Your Excellency, we thank you for participating in the long talks with us and for listening to us. The properties have been a source of conflict between Mengo Administration and the Central Government. Now that they are out of the way, we shall initiate development programs to help our people get out of poverty”, he said.