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VISION: Big Data for a Better World – 5 Real-World Applications


blog-details-userBrittany Box

blog-details-eye-slashFeb 8, 2014


Think big data is all Big Brother improving the bottom line for big business? Think again. The ability to pull actionable insight from the world’s never-ending stream of information presents tremendous opportunity to improve all of our lives. From combing lightning data to increase early warning times for severe weather to predicting high risk for homelessness with eviction notice data, we’re finding more and more ways to use big data to improve, empower and save lives.


In 2013, 23 people in the US were killed by lightning strikes, and in 2011, a staggering 553 people died in tornado-related fatalities. To help keep people safe during storms, NASA, the National Weather Service and the military are using historical and real-time lightning data to identify predictive patterns and ultimately increase lead times on severe weather warnings. The data, collected by Earth Networks, comes from 8,000 sensors throughout the US, and the ability to use this data to understand and, more importantly, predict weather patterns could improve warning systems set in place to avoid weather-related deaths. (Source: GCN)


In times of crisis, first responders can tap social and sensory data streams to clarify which areas are most in need of assistance and avoid confusion and delays in reaching those areas. According to Forbes, first responders analyzed hashtags used on Twitter and Instagram during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to triage areas most in need of resources like food and fuel. (Source: Forbes)


A feature on FastCo Exist highlighted how New York City is using big data to preemptively identify high risk for homelessness and prevent families from entering the shelter system. They do this by analyzing and visualizing data from eviction notices that lead to homelessness. Being able to predict which buildings and addresses with evictions notices lead to homelessness allows social workers to preemptively intervene with housing and legal information for high-risk residents.


With electronic health records collecting a tremendous amount of patient information, this data can be used to improve patient experience by finding trends and patterns that could help diagnose, treat and prevent disease at a massive scale. In a concrete real-world example, hospitals in the Netherlands are piloting a mobile application that tracks and visualizes pregnant patient data to improve the experience. “You’re seeing the labor progress on the wall with a nice graphic visual. That really has a positive effect on the psychology of the woman giving birth and helps calm them down,” said Philips’s chief design officer in Fast Company. (Sources: Fast Company)

Global Warming

According to a feature on Mother Nature Network, Ford is neutralizing its carbon footprint by analyzing the CO2 output of its vehicles and using that to determine how many gas, electric, natural gas, and hydrogen cars it has to produce to help strategically offset that. Ford used some of this information to create its Fleet Purchase Planner, software on iPads at dealers that allows buyers to calculate the impact different cars will have on the environment, including factors such as coal required to charge a hybrid, vehicle emissions, and cost of fuel.