ClimaCell Grabs $45M for Weather Data for Airlines, Driverless Cars

Aviation, public utilities, and insurance are among the old-line industries that rely on accurate weather forecasts and monitoring to make crucial decisions for their operations. Now, advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies are creating uses for weather data in new sectors—think ride-hailing services, drones, and self-driving cars.

That’s according to ClimaCell, a Boston-based startup developing new methods of making short-term weather predictions. Today, the company announced it tracked down $45 million in a Series B funding round, bringing its venture capital haul to $65 million.

The investor list underscores that old and new industries are searching for ways to glean better weather insights. The financing round’s backers include JetBlue Technology Ventures (a previous ClimaCell investor), the venture arm of JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU); and Ford Smart Mobility (a new ClimaCell investor), a subsidiary of the automaker Ford (NYSE: F) that’s working on autonomous vehicles and other mobility technologies. Clearvision Ventures led the round, and was also joined by Envision Ventures, Canaan Partners, Fontinalis Partners, and Square Peg Capital.

Ford sees “high-definition, micro-weather information” as one of the keys to driverless vehicle route planning, among other activities. “In the future, real-time data will allow autonomous vehicles to be routed around bad weather,” said Marcy Klevorn, Ford executive vice president and president of its mobility business, in a prepared statement.

But that’s down the road. ClimaCell’s current customers include JetBlue, Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), ride-hailing app company Via, and Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK), the 3D design and engineering software maker.

ClimaCell’s pitch is that today, the need for reliable weather data is more dire than ever. Weather effects can swing America’s annual gross domestic product by up to 6 percent, according to National Weather Service estimates. At the same time, standard weather-tracking methods have flaws, ClimaCell argues. One is that radar and weather stations are slow to give updates, the company says. Another issue is radar can’t sense what’s happening at low altitudes, which makes weather events more unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

ClimaCell isn’t the only company trying to improve methods for collecting and analyzing weather data. Related startups include San Francisco-based Spire (which tracks weather via satellites) and Madison, WI-based Understory (which tracks weather from Earth’s surface).

ClimaCell’s approach doesn’t involve deploying any of its own sensors or hardware. Instead, it uses software to measure how weather impacts wireless communication networks.

The basic principle is that weather and atmospheric conditions affect wireless signals beamed through the air between cellular towers and mobile phones and other connected devices. ClimaCell CEO and co-founder Shimon Elkabetz has said his company devised a way to glean weather insights from those signal effects. ClimaCell combines that network information with data from traditional sensors, such as satellites and radar, to provide minute-by-minute weather observations. These data sources also allow ClimaCell to make local weather forecasts for up to six hours into the future and at street-level precision, the company has said.

ClimaCell’s products include interactive, Web-based weather maps and an application programming interface that enables other organizations to incorporate ClimaCell’s weather data into their software applications.

For example, Autodesk integrates ClimaCell data in its construction software, Elkabetz said in a statement e-mailed to Xconomy. “Construction is heavily weather-dependent, and very few quality, low-altitude forecasts (or site-specific alert notification products) exist,” he said. (Elkabetz is pictured above in the center, with ClimaCell founders Rei Goffer and Itai Zlotnik.)

In a press release, ClimaCell said it intends to invest in further development of weather sensing and forecasting methods. The company currently has 55 employees, Elkabetz said. The plan is to double the size of its staff in the coming year, adding salespeople, Web and mobile software developers, atmospheric data scientists, “digital signals researchers,” and other types of jobs, Elkabetz said.

The company said it will also use the new funding to expand its international operations, including making its service available in developing countries that lack sufficient weather forecasting infrastructure, like India.

Elkabetz said one of the company’s goals is to help users understand and respond to natural disasters, particularly those involving floods.

“We can provide precipitation tracking to both developed and developing countries, and set up alerts to notify communities about possible flash flood conditions,” he said. “We are actively working on our unique flood modeling that uses our proprietary data.”

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