University straps Windows Phone 7 device to balloon, tracks results

Windows Phone 7 has seen a wide array of apps written for it, from Foursquare to Facebook, but what about balloon tracking? Thanks to the University of Southampton, there's even an app for that now. Last Friday, Southampton's School of Engineering Science team strapped a HTC 7 Mozart to a balloon destined for the stratosphere, in order to track its flight path and predict a landing point.

Why a phone? Speaking to The Guardian, team member Steven Johnston put it down to a weight issue. "10 years ago, using a box with a 1GHz processor wouldn't have come in under 10kg in weight," he said. Regardless of the horsepower, the on-board Mozart isn't handling the number crunching. That's done by a Windows Azure server back on terra firma, while the team's other Windows Phone 7 devices track the phone and pinpoint landing positions on a Bing map.

The data will be used by the university's Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft team, who will collect data on the atmosphere to be employed by a variety of research projects, such as monitoring pollutants and modeling the earth's climate system.

The decision to use Windows Phone 7 was a personal one, according to Johnston. "We looked at iPhone, but Objective C is just not for me, on a personal level. I love my Visual Studio and do a lot of net development, so I didn't need to learn any new skills for this," he said. "The key thing is that we're not doing all the calculations on the phone itself: Azure comes in for the serious backend processing."

So where does Johnston want Windows Phone 7 to be in the future? An improved Bluetooth stack tops his wishlist, allowing his team to interface with other on-board devices, perhaps to gain a more accurate tracking. Currently, the system only works when within range of a mobile network, and Johnston hopes to overcome that barrier. Johnston is also keen to employ the use of other phone sensors, such as a compass, to enhance the accuracy of the data.

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