Remote sensing for non-experts: How core industries can benefit from satellite tech


Technology-led business model innovation has been the secret sauce to success for most modern-age digital startups. Core industries, on the other hand, are taking the slow and steady approach, adopting technology in a piecemeal manner, while keeping their core business model or processes unchanged.

Adopting cutting-edge technology like remote sensing can be considered a paradigm shift for core industries. But the million-dollar question is, how will it be beneficial to them? Let’s read on to understand how core industries, such as power utilities, telecom, water, oil & gas, mining and the like can benefit from remote sensing technology.

Remote sensing for core industries: What does it entail?

The increasing availability of geospatial data offers great opportunities for advancing scientific discovery and practices in society, thereby making it a great source to collect data and put it to good use for varied industries.

Remote sensing is an important geospatial technology which helps in acquiring information about an object or phenomenon without making any form of physical contact typically using satellites or air-bound devices. It serves many commercial, economic and geographical functions.

Today, remote sensing is being applied for varied purposes including locating sub-surface commodities such as natural gas and oil, improving agricultural yields and detecting air, ground and water pollution — among other things.

In the first article of our Remote Sensing for Non-Experts series, we have discussed in detail the science, art and history of remote sensing. Here’s a quick take on these three unique sources of remote sensing for new readers:

  • Satellites – Satellites make remote sensing the most accessible technology globally. Being the most reliable source of data worldwide, they have been used in the geospatial space for almost six decades now and are used widely in environmental monitoring forecast and research, mapping, aircraft monitoring, military intelligence, predicting forest fires, optimizing solar panel energy and so much more.
  • Aerial Photography – Aerial photography is all about taking photographs from an aircraft or any airborne flying object. In airborne remote sensing, downward or sideward looking sensors are mounted on an aircraft to obtain images of the earth’s surface. It is now used for cartography, power line inspection, movie production, surveillance, vegetation and ocean mapping. Aerial photography can be conducted in a variety of ways by airplanes, helicopters, unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other airborne objects. In recent times, drones have become a very popular and easy source of UAV remote sensing.
  • LiDAR – A portmanteau of light and radar, it is used for measuring distances by illuminating the target with laser and measuring the reflection with a sensor. First introduced in the 1960s, LiDAR systems can accurately measure natural as well as man-made environments. Its first applications came in meteorology, although now it is used in agriculture, archaeology, geology, conservation, etc.

A quick comparison chart: What’s the best remote sensing data source out there?

Comparison chart - Remote sensing

While all the 3 remote sensing sources offer very high-resolution images, it is pertinent to know which source covers the maximum geographic range at good speed in a more cost-effective way. The availability of past data and regulatory approvals are also important points to consider.

Satellites offer 100% geographic coverage and range compared to airplanes and drones and have clear regulatory approvals for data collection. While airplanes can also cover a decent range, most drones, whether due to battery life or regulatory restrictions on beyond line of sight operations, have a comparatively short range.

According to a DroneApps article, for foresters monitoring tree counts or geologists searching for mineral deposits mapping large areas, the ability to map large areas is more important than high resolutions. This is unlikely to be an area where drones will be able to compete with airplanes and satellites, at least until their endurance has been drastically improved.

As far as costs are concerned, large-area mapping is cheapest with the help of satellites, whereas drones and aircraft-based data collection have very high operational costs.

How can satellite remote sensing benefit power utilities?

One of the biggest challenges for power utilities across the USA is vegetation management, resulting in power outages and wildfires. Vegetation management remains the single largest line item in the annual operations and maintenance budgets for most power utilities.

Trees and branches getting in the RoW of power lines, poles and other assets is a major cause of service interruptions and can even lead to wildfires. Blackouts on the United States electrical grid have become more severe in the past 20 years. In the past decade alone, an estimated 679 widespread power outages occurred due to severe weather, costing the United States an annual average of between $18 billion and $33 billion USD.

The traditional approach to vegetation management has so far been expensive and labor-intensive, relying primarily on manual inspections and static records of the last time an area was trimmed.

Contributing growth factors such as tree species, weather conditions, soil moisture, hazard trees and herbicide applications are important measures that need to be tracked in the development of trees along a power utility’s territory.

Cutting-edge technology like AI and satellite monitoring can play a significant role in transforming the current scenario for good. Technology can overcome the challenges mentioned above quite effectively and can lead to a dramatic reduction in cost and resource utilization. Satellite and predictive analytics can enable utilities to predict the growth of vegetation along power lines, helping utilities reduce overall O&M costs and improving reliability.

AiDash Intelligent Vegetation Management System (IVMS) uses very high-resolution satellite imagery combined with Artificial Intelligence to provide efficient and effective vegetation management to power utilities. Here’s a case study on how AiDash helped a Fortune 500 company reduce vegetation management costs by 20% and improved reliability by 15%.