EarthNow, a startup funded by Airbus, the Softbank Group, Bill Gates and Greg Wyler, describes its undertaking as ambitious and unprecedented. EarthNow plans on delivering continuous real-time video of the Earth enhanced by machine intelligence via a constellation of advanced imaging satellites. (There is no deployment schedule as of this writing.) The ability to see events unfold as they happen in real-time is what EarthNow says differentiates itself from other Earth observation satellite systems.
The promotional video is lovely and provides a nice overview:
To help understand the possibilities of EarthNow’s technology a few examples are provided, such as:
- Catch illegal fishing ships in the act
- Watch hurricanes and typhoons as they evolve
- Detect forest fires the moment they start
- Watch volcanoes the instant they start to erupt
- Assess the health of crops on demand
- Observe conflict zones and respond immediately when crises arise
When reading these one can’t help but instantly imagine the opportunities for supply chain and procurement risk management and monitoring initiatives.
McKinsey, recently writing on supply-chain risk management, captures the importance of risk monitoring, especially where it “is critical to have an early warning system to track top risks to maximize the chances of mitigating, or at the very least limiting, the impact from their occurrence.” Having access to real-time global visual data, such as what EarthNow is planning, increases the chances and provides greater opportunities to more effectively track, capture and respond to risk events.
Noting the example of assessing crop health on demand, reading about efforts made by Molson Coors to protect crucial barley crops utilizing real-time data helps us to understand the benefits of on-demand data. Supply Chain Dive reports they are making “data-driven decisions to mitigate risk, such as whether to delay harvest or how quickly to harvest crops and move them to grain elevators.”
With the emergence of this type of technology there are, understandably, privacy concerns. MIT Technology Review reports that “satellite imagery is improving in a way that investors and businesses will inevitably want to exploit” and will be subject to misuse. Currently in America, satellite privacy laws are imprecise. Human Rights expert Nathaniel Raymond states “current privacy laws focus on threats to the rights of individuals.” Those protections “are anachronistic in the face of AI, geospatial technologies, and mobile technologies, which not only use group data, they run on group data as gas in the tank.” EarthNow states they “will hire a ‘Chief Privacy Officer’ to ensure that [they] not only meet the privacy laws in jurisdictions where [they] operate, but [will also] respect societal privacy.”
Privacy issues aside, this technology is exciting! Oh, the possibilities!