Broader Usefulness of Satellite Photos

BusinessWeek ran an article in July 2015 called How Satellite Photos May Change Economics. It offered an insight into how companies such as Planet Labs, Spaceknow and Orbital Insight are offering ways of turning satellite imagery into data for decision making. For example, a collection of photos of the same place over time (hourly or daily) can be used for:

  • Photos of car park utilisation at retail centres provides an indicator of sales and customer traffic.
  • Photos of oil tank farms can show the stock of crude oil available, enabling energy investors to track the ebb-and-flow of oil.
  • Photos of city lights at night can be used to predict economic activity and poverty rates around the world.

Each of the three vendors profiled in the article are still around, and continue to offer satellite imagery for decision making. For example:

  • Planet Labs offers monitoring products for agriculture, energy and infrastructure, and finance and business intelligence.
  • Spaceknow has a collection of popular insights available, including car analysis at Disney World, aircraft analysis at JFK (see image above), and a manufacturing index for China, among others.
  • Orbital Insight provides data for determining what’s happening with ore mining, road and building construction in China, and the supply and demand for steel.

What an interesting way to capture detailed data for time-series analysis of what’s happening around the place.

2 thoughts on “Broader Usefulness of Satellite Photos

  1. Michael, I remember reading an article many years ago — before Google Earth or around the time of its launch — that farmers were using satellite imagery to evaluate the conditions of their crops as well as the crops in neighboring farms. I understand evaluating your own crops, but I was fascinated by the competitive intelligence aspect of watching their competitors. If it looked like a neighboring farmer (100 miles away) was preparing to harvest, the farmer might choose to harvest his crop a day earlier to get to market sooner and thus get a better price.

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