satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company

Imaging firm DigitalGlobe teams with Vodafone Spain for IoT play

Satellite imaging firm DigitalGlobe announced Sensing4Farming, an Internet of Things (IoT) product it created with Vodafone Spain.  The partnership appears to be the first between an earth observation (EO) company and a major telecommunications carrier.

“Sensing4Farming will put critical geospatial insights directly in the hands of farmers,” said Amy Minnick, DigitalGlobe Senior Vice President and General Manager of Commercial. “DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading commercial imagery will provide valuable insights for agribusiness owners looking to integrate the latest IoT technology to increase their efficiency and crop production. This innovative product further demonstrates the growing commercial uses for DigitalGlobe’s imagery.”

Sense4Farming combines data from DigitalGlobe multispectral high-resolution satellite imagery with ground-based sensors supplied by Spain-based Qampo and connected to a cloud platform by Vodafone’s IoT network, with a couple of other technology partners providing support.  The end result is Sense4Farming providing insight about crop health to farms, agronomists, and businesses to optimize agricultural production.

Multispectral imagery provides deeper information that can’t be seen by the human eye about vegetation health, like plant age and chlorophyll concentration.   Qampo’s agricultural sensors provide information on temperature, humidity, climate and soil moisture.  Fusing the imagery with “ground truth” IoT-collected data provides information AI algorithms can use to provide recommendations on when and where to water or fertilize crops, when to protect crops from problems, and when the right time is to harvest.

The partnership between DigitalGlobe and Vodafone Spain is indicative of several trends. Earth observation (EO) companies are looking for new commercial applications and to expand their customer base as more sources of satellite imagery come on line.  Next-generation small satellite constellations built by the likes of Planet Labs today and potentially Canon tomorrow are going to result in a wealth of imagery that will likely drive the cost of such data downward over time.

Fusing imagery with other data types will be one way in which companies seek to both add value to stock imagery and create new products.  BlackSky is using a combination of imagery from multiple sources, various machine learning algorithms, and input from other sources, such as social media and news outlets, to create a monitoring platform which will monitor a geographic area or type of activity.  If there’s a significant event, users are alerted with multiple sources of information to gauge a situation.

Blending IoT applications with imagery is a natural fit.  It is easy to imagine near-term applications that take ADS-B aircraft and AIS ship tracking data from firms such as Spire Global and put them together with Planet’s global catalog of imagery.  Planet may have hinted at such a creation when it tweeted about using AIS ship tracking data to spot ship activity around a Russian missile test site in the Arctic and matching dates and locations with its imagery to illustrate activity.

More rapid disaster recovery may be one result.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, one Florida woman spotted her uncle’s SOS in a NOAA satellite image, the result of spelling out HELP with downed logs.  More automated and rapid processing of imagery should be able to assist first responders to assess road conditions and pinpoint those in need of assistance, as well as survey infrastructure for repair.  Insurance companies may be able to more quickly process claims (if they choose to do so) by using satellite imagery to assess property damage and prioritize where claims adjustors need to go.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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