Say hi to BloomSky, your personal eye for local weather (hands-on)

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The BloomSky is a personal weather station that snaps photos, too. James Martin/CNET

For some weather addicts, info gleaned from mobile phone apps, TV stations, and other broadcast media just isn't detailed or immediate enough. These meteorology buffs crave a device that will track hyperlocal data in real time, right from their backyard. Not to worry though, because San Francisco-based startup BloomSky plans to satisfy the specific needs of this special customer by adding a new twist to the fledgling world of personal weather stations.

The company envisions its gadget not just sensing environmental staples such as temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure. The $169 (which converts to £100/AU$180) BloomSky gizmo is built to measure UV light and notice the start of any significant precipitation. And equipped with an HD camera plus a Wi-Fi radio, the Internet-connected BloomSky should also be smart enough to snap and send its owners pictures during dramatic meteorological events.

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BloomSky talks to its mobile app. The company plans to sell an optional indoor unit. BloomSky

Design and features

Meeting the BloomSky device up close, it's hard not to escape its ocular appearance. With a body that's circular and orb-shaped, the BloomSky certainly reminds me of giant eyeball, but in a good way. About the size of your average grapefruit, the prototype we manhandled was chock full of pleasant curves and comforting rounded edges. Still, with a big camera lens placed front-and-center on its face, it's not crazy to imagine the product is gazing at you.

The BloomSky, however, doesn't have an eye out for people or even stray animals, but rather the weather. Indeed, the primary ball-shaped unit is meant to sit atop its custom pole, which is meant to be driven into the ground like a stake. From its perch, say its creators, the machine will occupy household yards, lawns, and other residential garden spots, sniffing out all sorts of environmental stats.

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Place the BloomSky outside to measure live weather stats. BloomSky

While the gadget that BloomSky showed off was a non-functional dummy for display purposes only, the company pledged that the final device will bristle with a sizeable array of sensors. These include ways to assess temperature, ambient light (both in the visible and ultraviolet spectrum), air pressure, and humidity levels.

Nice, too, is the BloomSky's moisture detector, which records the occurrence and intensity of precipitation. In theory you'll be able to know just how hard the rain is falling on your roof, from the lightest sprinkle to the most torrential deluge. Competing products such as the $180 Netatmo Weather Station (£139, AY$199) support this feature, but it's not bundled in the base kit.

The BloomSky gadget connects to your home's Wi-Fi, which allows its users access to sensor info via a companion mobile app anywhere they enjoy a live wireless network link. Android users be advised, the company expects to offer only an iOS version of the application initially. BloomSky told me, however, that Android software is in the works as well.

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The base kit includes a stake that can be driven into soft soil. James Martin/CNET

Of course the slickest functionality in the BloomSky's current tool kit is its HD camera (1,600x1,200 pixels). Paired with the gizmo's various sensors, BloomSky engineers explain that the product will be keenly aware of its surroundings and will snap photos when compelling weather conditions present themselves. In addition, while not a true video-capture device, the imaging system can stitch multiple pictures together into time-lapse videos.

BloomSky expects its weather station to be powered by two rechargeable battery options, either a standard lithium ion or a premium lithium polymer model. Both choices provide juice for about 20 days of run time, with the major difference being lifespan (7 or 15 years). You can avoid the energy question altogether, though, and spring an extra $39 for a solar panel add-on module. Other planned upgrades in the BloomSky system include an indoor module ($39) to monitor conditions within your home along with a wall-mounting kit ($9).

Outlook

Will these personal weather-station gadgets, and specifically the BloomSky, prove successful from a sales standpoint? I think the jury is still out on that one. Priced at $169, even the base kit is not an impulse purchase. Throw in other extras like the solar panel charging solution and indoor module ($39 apiece) and you're looking at almost a $250 tab (shipping not included).

Availability outside the US hasn't been announced yet. However, for comparison's sake, the above costs convert to roughly £100 or AU$180 for the base kit, and another £23/AU$41 for each of the add-ons at the current exchange rate. The company's Kickstarter page does mention shipping the base kit to offshore destinations for an additional $25 charge, which works out to approximately £15/AU$27 and goes up from there depending on which package you opt for.

Forgive me, but you'd have to be one heck of a weather fanboy to justify spending that kind of loot. This is especially true considering that mobile apps, TV, and radio serve up very local weather conditions including forecasts -- something the BloomSky won't provide at launch. That said, according to BloomSky founder and CEO J.T. Xiao there are definite plans to leverage the BloomSky's camera toward that end. Mr Xiao told me in a recent interview, "One thing we imagine BloomSky to do in the future is to utilize its camera and pictures it takes combined with its other sensors for weather forecasts."

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On back are circular ridges supporting numerous mounting options. James Martin/CNET

Also slick is the potential for grouped BloomSky devices to one day talk to each other and provide a current snapshot of hyper-local weather. This scenario, however, is a long way away, with Xiao explaining that technology to drive forecasting via linked BloomSky units is at least a year down the road.

Still eager to get your hands on a BloomSky right away? Sadly, unless you're one of the lucky people who backed the project via Kickstarter or part of the company's small San Francisco beta test group, you'll have to wait until the fourth quarter of 2014 (essentially the end of the year) before the startup expects to ship hardware to ordinary buyers.

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Where to Buy

BloomSky

Part Number: CNETBloomsky

MSRP: $169.00

See manufacturer website for availability.