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Using Satellite Imagery for Positive Global Impact

By Dr Sam Adlen, Head of Innovation, Satellite Applications Catapult

Dr Sam Adlen considers what needs to happen next, following the recent Radiant Summit.

When the likes of the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network (established by Ebay founder, Pierre Omidyar) take a keen interest in something, it’s likely that a revolution could be on the cards. This was discussed at the Radiant Summit in Seattle when details were shared about Radiant Earth – a geospatial and satellite imagery technology platform focused on supporting positive global impact.

The objective is to make thousands of satellite images readily available through Radiant Earth, consequently enabling end-users to share and utilise the data for positive global impact. With roughly 1,400 satellites currently orbiting the Earth, there is a huge resource that could bring significant benefits around the world.

It’s great to have an initiative that recognises the value that Earth Observation (EO) data can deliver in the context of development and sustainability. There is vast potential for EO (and UAV) data to support development projects, across applications themselves and supporting new users in-country, as well as for mapping (project logistics), monitoring and evaluation.

Furthermore, the fact that a new community – made up of the satellite data, geospatial and development communities – was brought together through the summit to make something magic happen, was incredibly positive.

However, several important questions remain, which will determine the direction and success of this initiative.

On the technology side, how will Radiant Earth link with other platforms? Does Radiant intend to host data, or will it be linking with other platforms? Commercially, how is Radiant planning to make money from its platform?

Focus is also crucial. In such a broad area there is a danger in trying to do too much. Many things happen already and how Radiant links and supports in those areas, rather than duplicating, is important. Radiant’s USP will be its ability to engage new users, enable new ways of working, and generate far-reaching benefits. This will mean enabling people in developing economies to access and use the data, or enabling new apps for development in impact and sustainability. The potential is huge, but the focus must be on driving impact in a few areas well, rather than spreading too thin. What will be the three or four major stories in three years’ time?

For data providers, there needs to be clear definition about how to engage, which will of course be determined by the focus areas.

Ultimately, if Radiant focuses on enabling things that do not happen already (for whatever reason) and on the intersection between imagery and development, then with the vision and support of the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network, there could be some exciting things on the horizon.