The Stack Archive

Satellite analytics to assist in fight against terrorism and humanitarian crises

Thu 16 Apr 2015

Satellite imaging company DigitalGlobe, which provides much of the imagery found on Google Maps and Microsoft Bing, has announced that it now offers an analytics service that could help track illegal human activity such as that of poachers and terrorists.

In February, the Colorado-based firm became the first commercial aerial imaging company to make 30cm resolution available to its customers – a resolution high enough to pick out relatively small geographic detail such as manhole covers and fire hydrants.

DigitalGlobe has now released an analytics tool which aims to monitor human activities and to predict locations where potential offences will take place next. “Humans, we’re creatures of habit, and a lot of these things can be detected using geospatial technology, especially remote-sensing data,” explained senior director of strategic solutions development at DigitalGlobe, Kumar Navulur.

During a reporters’ briefing at the Space Symposium yesterday, Navulur, alongside company director Taner Kodanaz, described the new programme as part of a wider project called ‘Seeing a Better World.’ The initiative is designed to develop geospatial technologies in support of humanitarian work, national security efforts, as well as disaster response and recovery.

For example, DigitalGlobe have partnered with The Satellite Sentinel Project to provide analytic support and imagery analysis of the crisis on the ground in Sudan and South Sudan with the goal of generating rapid response on human rights and human security concerns.

A further project, with client Amnesty International, looked at tracking the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram – militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Nigeria, and recent perpetrators of the schoolgirl kidnappings.

Using DigitalGlobe’s ‘Signature Analyst’ technology, the human rights NGO was able to monitor the group’s movements, Navulur said.

“If you know that these terrorists had the girls at this particular location, once you have two, three different locations, the tool starts building a model and tries to predict where the next location would be,” he added. “It was not just about imagery, but also what we call the patterns of life.”

Kodanaz said that the analytics tool is able to use data gathered from its remote-sensing satellites, social media reports and other information to predict where incidents may take place. He explained that the technology had also been deployed in Nigeria to track oil robberies, in Syria to keep an eye on agricultural production impacted by the civil war, and in south Sudan to analyse elephant poaching.

Kodanaz explained that for most African parks “the limited resource that they have are the park rangers — there’s not enough of them and there’s too much area to cover.” The specialised software is therefore able to analyse the generated image data and track where the elephants are feeding, where water mass is located, and other potential poaching locations.

“We’ll take all of that information, conflate it, and then have the analyst tool tells us, where do we think the next poaching event is going to occur,” he continued.

Using this technology DigitalGlobe was able to significantly reduce the predicted poaching area by around 95% in order that park rangers could concentrate on protecting the remaining five per cent which, according to the software, would be targeted land zones for poaching events.

“We want to give our customers the power to see the Earth clearly and in new ways,” Navulur concluded. “Our vision is to be an indispensable source of information for a changing planet. To get to our vision, what we’re creating is a living, digital inventory of the planet.”


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