How’s this for an innovative use of technology to aid scientific discovery? Researchers at the University of Southampton recently launched a Windows Phone 7 with a digital camera 60,000 feet into the stratosphere to help study air pollution. According to the University’s blog post, the objective of the Atmospheric Research through Robotic Aircraft project is to illustrate how a low-cost helium high altitude balloon could be used to propel atmospheric monitoring equipment into the upper atmosphere. In this case, the balloon contained a Windows Phone 7 handset and camera, which recorded 1,200 images during flight. During flight, the phone streamed data to an application built on Windows Azure. This data was used to predict the package’s landing point.
The package containing the phone at maximum altitude.
As reported in this post by Microsoft UK’s Steve Lamb, more important than the data collected, the experiment validated this approach as the cheapest method for launching sensors into the upper atmosphere to aid in research projects. At approximately £600, this test cost a fraction of the £10,000/hour it would cost for a fully manned research aircraft. Congrats team!