Global science project links Android phones with satellites to improve weather forecasts

Collecting satellite data for research is a group effort thanks to this app developed for Android users. Camaliot is a campaign funded by the European Space Agency, and the first project aims to get smartphone owners around the world part of a project that can help improve weather forecasts by using your phone’s GPS receiver.

The Camaliot app works on devices with Android version 7.0 or later that support satellite navigation. The way satellite navigation works, telephones or other receivers search for signals from a network of satellites orbiting the Earth in a fixed orbit. The satellites send messages with the time and their location, and once it’s received, the phones record how long it took for each message to arrive and use that data to figure out where they are on Earth.

Researchers think they can use satellite signals to get more information about the atmosphere. For example, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere can affect how a satellite signal travels through the air to something like a telephone.

The app collects information to track the signal strength, the distance between the satellite and the phone in use and the carrier phase of the satellite, according to Camaliot’s FAQ† With enough data collected from around the world, researchers can: theoretically combine that with existing weather measurements to measure long-term water vapor trends. They hope that use that data to inform weather forecast models with machine learning. They can also track changes in Earth’s ionosphere — the part of the atmosphere near space. Making better ionospheric predictions may be relevant in follow space weather and could eventually make Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) more accurate by taking into account events such as geomagnetic storms.

Camaliot could eventually expand with more attempts to collect data on a large scale using sensors present in “Internet of Things” connected home devices. “We were inspired by the famous SETI@Home initiative, where home laptops help search for signs of alien life.” Vicente Navarro, an ESA navigation engineer, said in a press release

App users can compare their measurements with other Android users
Image: Camaliot

The project aims to collect information from all over the world – and from various satellite constellations. There are several constellations of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the American Global Positioning System (GPS), the Russian GLONASS, the Chinese Beidou or the EU’s Galileo. Japan and India also have smaller regional constellations. An FCC order in 2018 allowed more devices to use GPS and Galileo signals together for greater location accuracy.

While older Android phones can participate in this project, the Camaliot project displays over 50 newer models with dual-frequency receivers, which can simultaneously receive two GNSS signals with different satellite frequencies. Phones confirmed to include dual-frequency receivers include the Google Pixel 4a, Samsung Galaxy S21, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra — mostly those with high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 5G chipsets.

Navarro says that “the combination of Galileo’s dual-band smartphone receivers and Android’s support for capturing raw GNSS data” work together to increase the possibility of how much data can be collected solely from people using their smartphones.

Camaliot is only available for Android users
Image: Camaliot

The use of home technology from remote participants for scientific exploration continues to grow as everyday devices have more processing power and better detection capabilities. In addition to the famous SETI project and similar efforts like Folding@Home, other methods include NASA asking the public to use their phones to take pictures of clouds or trees, and science apps like iNaturalist that document animal behavior during a solar eclipse, or the tracking of different animal species.

How to use Camaliot?

Here’s how to use the Camaliot app on your Android phone later download from google play

  1. Select “start logging” and place your phone in a clear sky area to start logging the data
  2. Once you have measured to your liking, select “stop logging”
  3. Then upload your session to the server and repeat the process over time to collect more data. You can also delete your locally stored log files at this step.

Not only can you view your own readings against others collected over time, but you can also see a leaderboard of logging sessions taken by other participants. Ultimately, the collected information for the research will be available in a separate portal.

For registered users, their password, username, email address and number of measurements will be stored in Camaliot’s database, but they will not be used in publications and products after the survey, according to Camaliot .’s Privacy Policy† Specifically, Camaliot says that the need for comprehensive personal data is for scientific purposes and environmental monitoring, and that the need for data processing is “necessary for the performance of a task of public interest, which is to conduct this scientific study.”

Registered participants will also be entered into a pool for a chance to win prizes such as a dual-frequency Android phone and Amazon vouchers. The campaign will run until June 30.


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