When Shimon Elkabetz and Rei Goffer served in the Israeli Air Force, they heavily relied on weather data to make important decisions going into missions. As pilots, knowing if a storm was coming in at a certain time could be a matter of life or death, and for a few times, the latter nearly happened to Elkabetz and Goffer due to weather-related events.
“We all knew there was a big issue with the real-time certainty of weather data,” Elkabetz told me recently.
“We all knew there was a big issue with the real-time certainty of weather data.”
Those near-death experiences served as the impetus for Elkabetz, Goffer and Itai Zlotnik — who served in an elite commando unit of the Israeli Defence Forces — to eventually found ClimaCell, a Boston startup that aims to provide businesses and governments more accurate weather data through technology that uses existing wireless communication networks as sensors.
The company, which is currently working out of the Harvard Innovation Lab, has raised over $1.1 million, and investors include Boston venture capital firm Project 11 and Ratan Tata, the former chairman of multinational conglomerate Tata Group who was once listed by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful people. The company has roots at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where Zlotnik and Goffer are attending, as well as Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
ClimaCell claims the accuracy of its high-definition weather maps is on a minute-to-minute, street level that is twice the amount of granularity of provided by other weather data providers. This is made possible by integrating more traditional sources of data like satellites and radar with proprietary data from wireless networks.
“For any type of precipitation, we are able to generate really granular observation of them in real time,” Elkabetz said.
Elkabetz said there are many business applications for more accurate weather data. That includes one that hits close to home for Elkabetz and Goffer: knowing when it’s safe for aircraft to take off or land. There are also outdoor events, where venues need the best information possible to decide whether to cancel or postpone events.
“These are million-dollar decisions,” Elkabetz said.
Elkabetz said the company already has customers who work in the outdoor events, aviation and government space, but he declined to name any of them. He said ClimaCell also plans to expand to other industries, including insurance, which could benefit from more accurate weather data to help with things like claims and helping customers avoid hazardous weather events. Other industries include online advertising, finance, transportation, smart cities and utilities.
The company’s ability to analyze weather patterns through wireless networks — made possible because of how water in the air impacts radio waves — is based on research by Hagit Messer-Yaron, an electrical engineering systems professor at Tel Aviv University who served as the chief scientist of Israel’s Ministry of Science from 2000 to 2003.
By using existing wireless communication infrastructure, Elkabetz said ClimaCell doesn’t require costly equipment upgrades — which also means that its software can be deployed in developing nations where reliable weather data is typically not available. This could especially help farmers better predict rainfall so they can optimize their crops for higher yields.
ClimaCell’s weather data is available through its HyperCast online dashboard, as well as APIs that can plug the company’s weather data into various systems.