Remote Sensing for a Post-COVID World

As we said at the outset of our project, the Ray20 team is passionate about Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As defined by National Geographic, GIS are essentially systems for capturing, storing, checking and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface. GIS can help organizations better understand spatial patterns and relationships by relating seemingly unrelated data.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, GIS was often thought of as a bit esoteric. The people who love these systems (like our team members) couldn’t get enough, but those who hadn’t seen the insights, efficiencies and overall improvements to their businesses as a result of these systems weren’t necessarily slotting them at the top of their lists. When we discussed the reasoning behind this missed opportunity prior to the pandemic, it often came down to inertia. When people are used to doing things a certain way, it sure can be hard to turn that ship. In many ways, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the inertia present in many facets of our lives. GIS is no different.

As many of us seek to find silver linings through the lockdown, one that we and other players have found is that GIS and remote sensing has gone from a nice to have, to a have to have for companies across categories: construction, infrastructure, agtech, oil and gas, energy, insurance, aviation, supply chain, fleet management, financial analytics, etc.

With remote sensing, which feeds GIS, high rates of coverage are able to be created at strong resolutions meaning projects can be tracked and economic impact analyzed without anyone being put at risk. As companies tackle the still muddy waters of how to operate in a post-COVID world, knowing that they can still “see” their projects’ progress in real time is one thing they don’t need to worry about as GIS is there to help.

As GIS fans, our team knew the day would come when the efficiencies provided by GIS would overcome the “way things have always been done,” but we certainly didn’t expect it at such an inflection point of our project, and on a timeline that will coincide with continued air travel recovery in the years ahead.

Case in point: the Bay Area

To make this more tangible, we looked at a single week in 2019 (pre-pandemic, of course) July 1 - July 7, 2019, in which there were 1,417 flights over the San Francisco Bay Area region by A220 and A320 aircraft. We discovered that had these aircraft been equipped with Ray20, the coverage of the major cities, ports and airports would have been 82.9% with average revisits of 43 times per week at an imagery resolution of less than 50cm ground sample distance!

Fig. 1: Ray20 Coverage potential for July 1 - July 7, 2019, in which there were 1,417 flights over the defined Bay Area region by A220 and A320 aircraft.

We aim to equip a critical mass of Airbus aircraft with Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) airborne sensors, enhanced with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) edge computing, along with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and connectivity solutions, to create a network of aircraft acting as an autonomous remote sensing system. These flights are just the start.

By mid-September, our sensors will be active alongside Project Wayfinder onboard Acubed’s Flight Test Lab operating out of the Palo Alto Airport, and we’ll begin to acquire more data as flight testing accelerates for both our projects.

Our outlook

To realize the GIS market potential and enable new applications exploiting information for decision making, EO imaging needs to transition from bespoke responses to demands sold at minimum pricing and minimum purchase transactions to a democratized system where EO imagery is an abundant data source, an agnostic commodity available at a rate per km2. And of course, speed is of the essence. This means that on top of the image quality, the frequency at which images are taken and the capacity to downlink them and analyze them as quickly as possible have become key drivers and differentiators.

As air traffic returns over the coming years, which aligns to our own development and market entry timeline, we see a huge opportunity for this high resolution, high revisit imagery to take analytics to the next level.

As we’ve seen across the companies we meet with, it’s hard to deny the power of GIS data once it’s seen in action. We believe that the increased demand happening now amidst COVID will continue to spread and grow in post-pandemic times. If you’re interested in learning more about our services and approach, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to find a way to collaborate with you:

- Syed Ali Raza