Industry Profile

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Sentinel Hub – Next Generation Satellite Imagery Processing Service

Breaking point was a discovery that it actually is possible to process source EO data in real time, without compute intensive pre-processing or expensive infrastructure. This has opened the door for Sentinel Playground, a web application giving access to complete global Sentinel-2 archive to anyone. Something, that a few years ago could be only built by a company like Google. This put Sinergise on the “Earth observation map”. After winning the Copernicus Masters award, a recognition of Sentinel Hub – the service for processing and distribution of satellite data – reached a tipping point and other application developers, who struggled trying to use free and open Copernicus data, started coming.

Sentinel Hub cover

Sinergise is a GIS software development company with a decade of experience in agriculture, land management and cloud GIS solutions. Although Sinergise was founded in 2008, the story of the Sentinel Hub started a couple of years later. Working with public institutions in Europe, Africa and Asia, Sinergise was keenly promoting potential of on-going monitoring based on Sentinel-2 data even before the satellite was launched. However, it quickly became apparent that using existing technology for pre-processing of raster data, the task was too costly, both from infrastructure and maintenance point of view. A small group of engineers decided to do the unthinkable – to build a system from scratch. And it worked. Unbound from limitations of 3rd party software they could tweak and re-tweak each part of the puzzle until it worked fast enough. Amazon lent an ear for storage and together they have established Sentinel-2 Open Public Dataset. A combination makes it possible to process majority of requests in under a second – querying a database with millions of entries to select appropriate scenes, downloading relevant data from peta-byte archive, decompressing, compositing, re-projection and more. Quite an unthinkable.

Today, Sentinel Hub is empowering application developers around the world building EO-based applications. It is a payable service, but users have quickly realised that it is much more cost effective to pay a small amount every month than to develop and maintain the system by them. Analytical tools built on top of the core data distribution, such as multi-temporal processing, statistical API, custom band combinations and algorithms, make it even more attractive.

It is business but it is also much more. Sinergise wanted to do something good for society as well. They believe that just about everyone should be able to access Copernicus earth observation data so that they could get an objective and up-to-date view on what is happening with the Earth, either in their neighbourhood or thousands of miles away.

Showcases

To explore the satellite imagery, the Sentinel Playground is a good way to start. It is a public showcase demo application providing access to complete archive of Sentinel, Landsat and MODIS. Everything in full resolution, globally, either years ago or as recent as a couple of hours after acquisition. It is as simple as possible, to engage as many users as possible.

Lake Erie
Various stages of ice formation on Lake Erie. Cold winds are driving the pattern of thin ice streams in the area of open water. – Sentinel-2 from 2018-01-05. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2018], published by Zack Labe on Twitter

Similar, a bit more advanced, application is EO Browser, which opens other EO archives as well. After becoming freely available to anyone at the beginning of October 2017 it exceeded all the expectations. Today it counts almost 4,000 users who contribute to its success and improvements based on users’ experience.


Wildfire in Mendoza, Argentina – Sentinel-2 L1C from 2018-01-08. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2018], processed by Pierre Markus, full resolution image available here.

Who are the users?

Playground and EO Browser became well known and used among the EO enthusiasts and remote sensing experts, but what really drives Sentinel Hub forward is its core purpose, working with application developers who use Sentinel Hub services to power their applications for end users. We can talk about farm management tools in Europe, Africa, South America, Canada and Australia, or how paying agencies are using Sentinel Hub service to control subsidies. There are organisations from security field – EU SatCen and European Maritime Safety Agency among the users, who integrated it in their tools. Working with some of the biggest providers of geospatial tools and data shows, that they are on the right path. Just to give you an idea about the scale, Sentinel Hub processes over million requests per day, which is five times more than three months ago.

“We believe our services are empowering application developers to translate space data into useful information. And there are quite a few applications around the world in precision farming, security, land administration and environment monitoring. For example, FAO, Global Forest Watch and Greenpeace all use our services, and we process more than 1 million requests per day.”
Grega Milčinski, CEO at Sinergise

CLAAS
CLAAS Crop View application for farmers to get more value from Copernicus EU data is powered by Sentinel Hub and Sentinel-2 as part of 365FarmNet portfolio.


A South-African company Aerobotics offers on-demand satellite analytics and farming tools based on Sentinel Hub services.


Global Forest Watch uses Sentinel Hub’s imagery to monitor forests. Among others, their application helps discovering illegal deforestation, illegal mining and logging in protected areas.

Behind the scenes of Sentinel Hub

Since the Sentinel Hub’s technology is optimized for on-demand real-time processing of satellite’s big datasets it makes it possible to effectively and efficiently leverage open data distributed by several cloud providers – instead of the standard pre-processing, this platform does practically all the steps on-the-fly, as the user requests the data. There is only one pre-processing step, the indexing of data and their associated files, making access to the data much faster. There are two important benefits of this approach.

  • First is cost-of-operation, which is an order of magnitude less than similar systems, due to the fact that costs occur almost entirely when the user requires data specific to their area of interest. Their unique approach solves a common problem with EO data, namely that users are only interested in small percentage of data available, but it is impossible to accurately predict, which ones are those areas of interest.
  • The second benefit, possibly even more important, is flexibility of the service. By avoiding time-consuming dataset processing tasks, it is possible to add new features to the platform in a matter of minutes, which gives the user all the flexibility of additional data management.


Satellite imagery used as a basic component for planning UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) flights by MAVinci GmbH. Image shows true color imagery overlaid on 3D globe.

What the future holds?

After integrating all major open EO data sources as well as some commercial ones (Planet, Airbus) the amount of available information has become so large that it is simply not possible to check them all. It became apparent that machine learning is required to sift through the volumes and provide added value information or trigger alerts.

At Sinergise, they started with a pretty boring but extremely important problem – identification of clouds. This will make it possible to get a clean data for other tasks such as crop classification, flood detection, identification of new built-up areas, etc.

“When starting with Sentinel Hub, we came to a completely new world of remote sensing. But with a tremendous support by ESA and H2020* programme, we are capable to look a bit further in the future not worrying on day to date business only. And, without Copernicus team, we would have not even started. – Thank you!”
Grega Milčinski, CEO at Sinergise

For decades, people were using the EO data in various domains. However, with free and open data provided by Copernicus, USGS and alike, they became accessible to just about anyone. EO field was a game of big industry guys and research until recently, but not anymore. Anyone can engage. Either by simply going to their Sentinel Playground, observing and monitoring his location of interest, sharing the findings with others, or by building an app for end users or, for experts, using machine learning to help finding relevant things.

More info : www.sentinel-hub.com | info@sentinel-hub.com

Sentinel Hub has received funding from European Union’s H2020 programme, no. 755899.