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Khosla Ventures backs weather balloon startup that uses AI to upend forecasts

In Business
June 04, 2024

AI-driven weather balloons hope to make weather forecasts more accurate

This summer is expected to be one of the busiest hurricane seasons in history, according to the annual forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The frequency and intensity of the storms are increasing. Weather prediction is more critical than ever.

Artificial intelligence has made the weather forecasting market increasingly crowded. From hurricanes and tornadoes to wildfires and drought, fresh technology is revolutionizing science and the industry. Investors see a big opportunity, especially in startups.

Entrants to the field like Tomorrow.io, Google DeepMind, and California-based Windborne are using new technologies to detect weather events. Windborne uses a new type of weather balloon, for example.

“We operate the most comprehensive balloon constellation on the planet,” said John Dean, CEO and co-founder of Windborne. “We also do AI-based weather modeling. And so our mission is to mitigate the most disruptive aspects of climate change.”

Windborne’s balloons can fly for weeks, as opposed to today’s government-launched weather balloons which stay aloft for just a few hours and can’t reach remote locations.

“This means that we can collect roughly 40 to 50 times more data per balloon, and we can also collect this data over oceans and over under-observed areas by launching easy-to-reach launch sites and then flying over oceans and collecting data in situations as needed,” Dean explained.

The balloons use satellite communication to deliver their data in real-time. The world currently lacks weather data for 85% of the atmosphere, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Windborne’s goal is to close this gap with its technology — using fewer balloons to offer global coverage.

Demand for data from government and big business is driving funding. Windborne just closed a $15 million round with lead investor Khosla Ventures.

“It’s about a $100 billion market now, and it touches pretty much every industry,” Sven Strohband, partner and managing director at Khosla Ventures, said of the weather forecasting market. “It hasn’t really been meaningfully disrupted since the Weather Company in the 1990s. So that makes it a very attractive market for us.”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently said extreme weather and weather uncertainty present the biggest risks to businesses over the next decade. Windborne claims its technology can make a two-week forecast as accurate as today’s two-day forecast.

In addition to Khosla Ventures, Windborne is backed by Footwork VC, Pear VC, Convective Capital, Ubiquity Ventures and Susa Ventures. The company has raised $25 million to date.

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