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Geospatial industry must adapt and adopt to technological changes – Richard Blain, Earth-i

Rapid growth in the types and diversity of sensors available to collect data — from ground sensors, to drones, to rapid advancements in satellite technology — and the application of machine learning and AI is set to radically change the way geospatial data is used.

Richard Blain, CEO, Earth-i, UK

The increase in demand for location-based services, and the need to analyze, understand and interpret geospatial data from many different sources, plus the urgent need to address fundamental environmental and economic challenges on our planet, shows how critical a pillar location is in this period of change. Just think of the revolution automated cars will bring and the importance of location in realizing that opportunity. Or the importance of location data in analyzing and understanding critical supply chains and energy security. There will also be a radical increase in the application and usage of social, mobile, analytics and Cloud (SMAC) and location data to power a wide range of analytics, insights and new governmental and commercial services.

There is not a single industry today that is not touched by geospatial. We have also seen information technology companies and large industrial houses developing own geospatial capabilities or acquiring companies with mapping or spatial analytics abilities. This trend is driven by the increasing need to anchor data analytics and insights into a geospatial framework. Customers are increasingly turning ‘data agnostic’, and looking for analytics and insights, not the raw data or imagery. As data and technology becomes more affordable, intelligent platforms are developing fast to deliver data as a service and insights-ready products.

Inevitably, the geospatial industry must adapt to and adopt the technological changes. Partnering and collaborative working have long been a part of our industry, but new commercial opportunities and greater innovation will inevitably accelerate the need for more collaboration. The geospatial industry is already on the threshold of a transformation and I think the reason is a mix of the industry innovating from within and the impact of new ideas and start-ups from outside. Many of these start-ups have come from within the industry rather than completely fresh from outsiders. Earth-i itself is a collaboration of outsiders and industry experts.

Small satellites a big game changer

In the earth observation space, the single biggest technology game changer in recent times has to be the change in the economics of commercial space brought about by the radical reduction in the size and cost of EO satellites. This enabled us plan to build a large constellation of small EO satellites. The Earth-i constellation — first to offer full-color, full-motion video — will collect high resolution imagery with high frequency revisits to anywhere on Earth, and rapid tasking and download of data in near real time.

Together with the development of our analytics and insights platform, utilizing machine learning and AI, this stream of high spatial and temporal resolution data will enable the application of planetary Big Data to unlock powerful insights about our planet for a wide range of industry sectors and governments.

Our outlook is very strong and carefully planned. We are set to deploy the first batch of five satellites next year. It is a hugely exciting time in our industry; we expect growth to be rapid in the technology, the applications and in the types of customers for data and derived insights.