Delivering lightning forecast in real time via communication satellite:
Development of Disaster Prevention Infrastructure

Lightning strikes can happen with no warning, they are difficult to forecast, and they can cause severe damage not only to equipment, but also to human lives. This is a system to accurately forecast lightning strikes.

This article can be read in about 10 minute.

  • Lightning strike forecast system to prevent bodily injuries and property damages
  • Communication satellites to transport massive observation data
  • Social infrastructure that has close relativity to our daily lives

Weather is always your concern when you go camping, picnicking, participating a sport event, or having fun at an amusement park. You don't want to be rained on. You may even worry about a lightning strike near you if you hear thunder. Franklin Japan, headquartered in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, is a service provider who delivers lightning and weather information. It quickly delivers the weather information to its customers using satellite-based multicasting technology.

Franklin Japan's service is used in many places in our daily lives. It is used at outdoor leisure facilities to assure the safety of visitors; it is used at factories to prevent impacts of fluctuating voltages to manufacturing and assembly lines; it is also used by railway companies for train operations to determine whether to confirm a lightning strike [and its damage.] Besides these infrastructure companies, the lightning observation information is used by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at its Tanegashima Space Center to monitor the risk of lightning strikes near the launch pad. Yahoo! JAPAN and broadcasting stations are also users of the information to offer consumers the lightning forecast information.

Franklin's observation uses electro-magnetic sensors at 31 locations throughout the country to cover the entirety of Japan (as of March 2017). Each sensor has a coverage area of about 500 to 600 km radius. Data from multiple sensors allow the determination of accurate location [of a lightning strike.] The observed lightning data such as time and location is delivered via satellites. The internet was not widely available in 1991 when Franklin was established, so how to transmit large volumes of ground observation data was a challenge. Franklin, then, looked at the satellite communication technology of JCSAT.

 The business had multiple challenges. First, it required large capital investment. Franklin was the only company offering the service; it had to come up with observation sensors and other expensive equipment itself. The technology for data delivery was another issue as mentioned earlier. On top of them, awareness [and thus the market] of lightning information was limited. The lightning information is readily available nowadays, but the service awareness was low back then. No one thought it would be possible to forecast lightning strikes. The market and customer base had to be created from scratch.

 It was Franklin's commitment for "our daily lives with safety and peace of mind" that drove them to overcome these challenges. Starting with latent need of country clubs and golf courses, Franklin's service was adopted by outdoor leisure facilities and factories. Franklin's customers have grown to 600 nationwide.

Franklin Japan's primary business has been to report where lightning strikes occurred, but it is now capable of lightning forecasts leveraging the technology it has been fostering.

Franklin Japan is a pioneer of lightning information delivery service; it has become a part of the critical infrastructure protecting our lives on the ground by delivering the information from space.

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