Off-the-Grid Radar Networks Spark International Interest and a Commercial Venture

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) hosted students from all of the core partner institutions of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) to successfully complete a proof-of-concept campaign for their Off-the-Grid (OTG) radar network. The work was completed in collaboration with the National Weather Service (NWS) Office in San Juan and the results of this work are being disseminated throughout the U.S. and around the globe. At the same time, a group of students from the OTG radar project have established Sfyri LLC, a start-up company dedicated to the development of these low-cost weather radars.

Impact/benefits: 

In 2010, CASA researchers and students proved that the design of the OTG system provides notable benefits, especially in less developed regions and in emergency situations. The OTG network does not rely upon existing infrastructure in order to operate. Rather, these solar-powered radars communicate wirelessly and remain fully operational during power outages. The campaign led to a commercial spinoff, Sfyri, whose mission is to improve the quality of life in low-income and remote communities by providing faster and more accurate weather forecasts at a lower cost. The project also provided opportunities for students and researchers from underrepresented groups that may lead to collaborative research and additional commercial activities in the future.

Explanation/Background: 

Because conventional Doppler-based weather radars have low resolution and are unable to effectively account for the curvature and rough surface of the Earth, much of the activity in the lower atmosphere—where a large portion of dangerous weather occurs—goes undetected. When the City of Mayaguez hosted the 2010 Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, a network of three OTG radars were put into operation and detected a destructive windstorm heading toward the area. The data from the radars were transmitted to the NWS, which issued warnings early enough to delay the competition with minimal collateral damage. The test also addressed the tendency for conventional radars to report false alarms by debunking a false tornado report.

Beginning in 2011, the ninth year of the CASA project, the dissemination of the results from the CAC Games began with presentations at the Weather Radar and Hydrology (WRaH) hosted by England’s University of Exeter and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Radar Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. These talks have sparked the interest of many institutions around the world, including Montreal’s McGill University, the South Florida Water Management District, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Brazil Meteorological Research Institute, and Finland’s Vaisala.

There are ongoing negotiations to showcase the technology in Central and South America. Furthermore, collaboration with Environmental Canada has been proposed to deploy OTG radar networks in parts of Africa using funds from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The OTG system was designed to be used in such regions of the world.

Meanwhile, Sfyri, founded in Puerto Rico in May 2011, has been named one of the winners of the EnterPRize Business Idea Competition and finished fifth out of 130 companies in their Business Plan Competition. Its student founders are seeking investor funding by targeting topographically complex regions for business. To realize its goals, the company is working with Puerto Rico’s Small Business Development and Technology Center (SBDTC) and the Puerto Rico Technology Business Accelerator (PRTECH).