Today's featured creator is Adam Grossman, co-creator of Dark Sky. His accurate, short term weather predicition app determines your precise location to let you know when it will rain and for how long, utilizing hi-res, beautifully animated weather radar displays.
Did any particular ruined outdoor activity inspire you to create Dark Sky?
It all started a couple years back: I got stuck at a highway rest stop in a downpour. I'm talking buckets of rain, buckets of lighting (lightning can fit in buckets?). And there was my car, all the way across the parking lot. I guess I'm kind of a delicate little flower and didn't want to get wet, so I wondered if I could just wait it out inside. It was easy enough to check: I opened up the radar app on my iPhone and sure enough, a big ominous red splotch hovered over my location. But the thing was, I had no idea how long it would last. I had the map right in front of me, but I couldn't figure it out! The animation wasn't any help, it was too jumpy and splotchy to tell whether it'd be ten minutes or an hour.
There are already a bunch of apps that tell you the temperature. There isn't anything that tells you to get off your butt and walk the dog now, because it's going to start raining in 18 minutes. We wanted to focus on that. And besides, most of us don't care about things like humidity percentage or wind direction. When was the last time you thought to yourself: "Oh man! I absolutely must know what the dew point is RIGHT NOW!" I mean, what the heck is the "dew point" anyway? No one knows... it's a mystery. I'm pretty sure it's made up. (Ok, some people care about the wind: sailors, wind surfers, kite flyers. They're in the minority, but there is already a great service that predicts the wind, windalert.com, created by our buddies at WeatherFlow.)
Could you go in a bit of technical detail of how this seemingly magical thing works?
Alan Kay once said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." So that's what we do: Dark Sky uses your iPhone antenna to fire precisely tuned radio waves into the upper atmosphere, thus causing clouds to form and allowing us to control exactly when and where it's going to rain. Bwuahaha!
Instead we pull in images from the National Weather Service, and use some fancy algorithms to extract velocity information from the clouds. Once we know what direction and how fast the storms are moving, we find your exact location (using GPS) and then project the storm into the future to figure out if it's going to rain or not. More technical nitty-gritty can be found on our blog, here.
Why was it important to make a good-looking weather radar display?
Every existing radar map is ugly. They're all terrible. They're so bad that most people don't even realize they can be any different! But here's the thing: Beauty — real beauty, not just aesthetics — makes an interface easier and more pleasurable to use. It makes a world of difference. And besides, if you're going to do something, you might as well make it the best something in the world.
Do you think that providing this new way to visualize weather will have an impact on how people think about it?
There is so much weather data out there. There are thousands of weather stations across the country, hundreds of radar towers, satellites in orbit keeping a watchful eye, and advanced algorithms that pull it all in and extrapolate it to every point on the Earth's surface. And yet most of this information is being squandered. We're presented with weather forecasts in much the same way our parents and grandparents were: in bulk, and with no regard to how it effects us individually. The current apps out there are just slightly more advanced versions of the TV weatherman or newspaper forecast.
Your phone should know when you have a meeting across town and tell you to leave early because it's going to start raining. It should wake you up at 5AM because there's a fresh bed of snow on the hill and your better grab your sled before everyone else. It should tell you exactly when to leave the restaurant on your first date, timing it just perfectly so you both get stuck in a downpour trapped under that awning where you've planned the perfect first kiss.