After four years of battling typhoons, thunderstorms and downpours to launch weather balloons for the Hong Kong Observatory, Fung Kwok-chu can now do it from the comfort of his office. Mr Fung, his fellow meteorologists at the King's Park Meteorological Station and the city will benefit from a new $4 million automated balloon launching system which was unveiled yesterday. The balloons, which carry a radio sensor package to an altitude of 30,000 metres, collect information on air temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction and wind speed. They had been manually launched three times a day, at 8am, 2pm and 8pm, regardless of weather conditions for 80 years. 'Before it used to be a bit scary, especially in thunderstorms because I'd be walking around with a hydrogen-filled balloon,' Mr Fung said. Hydrogen is highly explosive. 'If there was a typhoon, often I would have to have two or three other people on standby to help make sure we launched the balloon.' But it was not thunder, lightning nor gale force winds that troubled Mr Fung the most. 'In rainstorms it was worse because I couldn't carry an umbrella and I'd end up totally wet. Now it's automatic, I can spend more time on analysis' which was his main passion, Mr Fung revealed. With the Automatic Upper-air Sounding System (AUSS), imported from Finland, in place, all Mr Fung needs to do is a weekly check-up to ensure the machine works smoothly. 'I only need to do the preparation work of filling the timed roulette of 24 radio sensors [enough for a week's worth of balloons] which is built into the machine, and the sensors will be taken up and flown automatically at the appointed times,' he said. The new device would also help the observatory save money, assistant director Lee Boon-ying said. Three senior scientific assistants who had worked with Mr Fung have taken voluntary retirement packages, resulting in $1.4 million in savings. Thirteen countries and regions in the world used the AUSS system, including Britain, Australia, Finland and South Korea, said Li Wai-sun, acting senior assistant scientific officer.