TWC acquisition perfect complement to IBM’s
note: This article is by Lloyd Treinish, IBM Distinguished Engineer, Chief
Scientist -- Environmental Modelling, Weather and Deep Thunder, IBM Research
Blue skies. Not just a perfect day for a
picnic. But it’s also the term utilities use to describe a grid that’s perfectly
balanced with energy from solar, wind, and other sources, or free of
disruptions from a storm. With IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company closing last month, utility companies could soon use TWC’s size, scale and expertise, and
my team’s Deep Thunder precision forecasting, to predict those blue skies – and
what they can do to rebalance their loads for days that aren’t so perfect. And
that’s just one industry example.
IBM’s been in the weather business for decades.
We delivered the first 701 “Electronic
Data Processing Machines” to the US Weather Bureau in 1955, and got into the science
with work on the mathematical and computational techniques for weather
modelling in the mid-1960s. In the 1990s, several years after I joined IBM, my
colleagues and I worked with NOAA to deploy weather models to help support
forecasting during the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. That work would later
evolve into what would become Deep Thunder.
Thunder is great at localized predictions for significant weather events.
For example, our prediction for winter storm Jonas in New York City for
Saturday, January 23 was close to the actual snowfall.
Deep Thunder made these predictions by using
advanced physics and sophisticated use of a diversity of environmental data to develop
high resolution, short-term forecasts. But the real power for business is how
Deep Thunder can drive “coupled models,” which use the latest in machine
learning and cognitive computing to predict the impact of weather. Utilities and
municipalities, though, want to know not only how much snow is going to fall,
but also how much wind power can they produce and use, or when and where pollution levels will have effects on
IBM is working with power
companies to combine micro weather forecasts with detailed local
data to help predict where power outages will likely occur.
IBM Research together with TWC is a bit like a neuroscientist working with a brain
surgeon. Different but complementary
skills steeped in a deep understanding of the science. My team of Ph.D. meteorologists, physicists,
mathematicians and computer scientists speak the same language as TWC’s meteorologists (we’re all weather geeks at heart). We are all looking forward to doing great
predictions for everyone
Where physics and model coupling is our
strength, size and scale is TWC’s sweet spot. They provide around-the-clock
forecasts to industries from aviation to broadcast, and millions of consumers with
high performance computing and cloud-based delivery. I envision a point in the
near future where a consortium of utility companies, across multiple metropolitan
areas, can couple TWC’s forecasts with Deep Thunder’s targeted models – driving
our Outage Prediction and Response Optimization (OPRO) technology to determine,
days ahead of time, where and when to share their repair crews so that the
power can be restored from damage due to severe weather as soon as the storm
And as weather events make a greater
impact on our lives, businesses and industries not obviously in need of forecasts
want something more than just weather. For example, a farmer wanting to reduce
how much irrigation is needed, yet maximize crop yield, needs to understand the
intensity and timing of rain, and the soil moisture. Deep Thunder can help do
it, but in order to apply this idea to farms around the world, TWC’s
industrial-scale forecast production is needed. As an initial step, my team
prototyped a version of Deep Thunder, using IBM BlueMix on SoftLayer, that can
be “spun up” at arbitrary locations and automatically configure itself to the
local geography and weather. This way atmospheric scientists aren’t the only
ones who can run a forecast for public broadcast or for a business, or analyze
past weather events that had significant impact.
Forecasting With IoT and Mobile
Mobile devices and sensors are everywhere.
But there are still too many variables to consider when trying to add reliable
data, for example, from automatic windshield wipers or pressure sensors in
smartphones to improve rainfall prediction. We need more sophisticated
calibration to integrate such measurements. But there's tremendous potential. IBM
and TWC’s coupled resources can now explore what was previously speculation,
from high resolution forecasts for your local TV news, to a utility company investing
in its next wind farm expansion. And perhaps soon, how to integrate IoT-generated
TED at IBM: This Weather Forecasting Model is Actually Accurate
Research and TWC will host the 2016 IBM Weather and Environmental Sciences
Conference from April 5-7 at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown
Heights, NY. The conference is a
gathering of researchers, developers, and business leaders to set strategy for
the development of scientific and technical advancements related to weather and
environmentally-sensitive services and business opportunities. Watch this space for more information, soon.