Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Friday, May 20, 2022

Mostly Cloudy: IBM Weather Unit to Guide Drones 

Among the array of sensors being incorporated in Internet of Things architectures are fleets of drones being used to deliver cloud-based data such as hyper-local weather reports.

The Weather Company, a cloud-based weather data platform acquired by IBM (NYSE: IBM) last October, said this week it would work with AirMap, a provider of "airspace management services" for unmanned aircraft to deliver real-time weather data to drone operators. The data will be accessible through the Weather Company via AirMap APIs or its mobile apps.

The agreement is timed to coincide with new federal rules covering commercial drone flights recently released by the Federal Aviation Administration. After a lengthy debate, the new FAA rules covering "visual line-of-sight operations" take effect on Aug. 29. The new federal regulations require that drone operators seek available weather information prior to take off.

The availability of real-time weather data "will help today’s drone pilots avoid hazardous and severe weather, and will be absolutely critical for safe, efficient flight planning and operations of more autonomous, beyond visual-line-of-sight drones," AirMap CEO Ben Marcus noted in a statement.

AirMap, Santa Monica, Calif., said it would deliver weather forecasts every 15 minutes from more than 2 billion locations around the world generated by the Weather Company's forecasting platform. Hyper-local meteorological data will include current and forecast conditions, temperature, barometric pressure, cloud cover, precipitation and other data. The cloud-based platform delivers an average of 20 million forecasts a day, the partners said.

The Weather Company's Mark Gildersleeve called the agreement with AirMap "a natural extension of the value we already provide every day to major airlines and aviation business worldwide." Along with helping drone operators comply with new federal regulations, the partners said the availability of real-time weather data would help improve the safety of drone operations. The new federal regulations represent a compromise among key stakeholders, many who were concerned about the proliferation of low-level unmanned aircraft in already crowded airspace.

The U.S. regulations finalized earlier this summer are seen as a major step toward using drones "beyond visual line-of-sight" to deliver products. Hyper-scalers such as Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN) have been early proponents of the drone deliver scheme. Meanwhile, the availability of real-time weather data is widely seen as critical to the flight planning process, advocates noted.

For IBM and its Watson-based IoT platform, the Weather Company-AirMap deal represents a major boost for the combined cognitive and analytics platform and the weather services cloud data platform. IBM acquired the Atlanta-based Weather Company along with other cloud-based web properties that include weather.com and Weather Underground. Excluded from the sale is the Weather Channel, which will license weather forecast data and analytics from IBM under a long-term deal.

The acquisition allowed IBM to combine a huge trove of weather data with its Watson cognitive and analytics platform to create new business intelligence use cases such as the deal with AirMap.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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