We rocket them into space, they dash around the planet, and they send us information. But how did these agents of info evolve to help core industries that have highly distributed assets? For answers, Satellite Superheroes podcast host Scott MacKenzie spoke with two co-founders of AiDash.
Nitin Das, Chief AI Officer, and Rahul Saxena, CTO, discussed how satellite technology has advanced from a simplistic start to now offer a highly data-driven approach to common use cases like vegetation management.
Watch the full episode
Top three takeaways
Takeaway 1: Satellites, the once simple observers, are now detail-harvesting dynamos.
The first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched into orbit in 1957. It weighed in at 184 lb. (83.6 kg), with a diameter of 23 in. (585 mm). It could orbit the Earth every 96 minutes and transmit signals back to Earth: the first remote sensing, with a single sensor capable of providing a camera image.
Over the decades, satellite capabilities have expanded in these areas (among others) to record the detailed data that solves all types of problems:
- Multispectral — having multiple bands with differing frequencies and wavelengths.
- Thermal — capturing the thermal signature of any object on an arc.
- Synthetic aperture — capable of penetrating through cloud cover and seeing objects at night.
The industry has also moved toward small-dimensional, super-low-weight satellites, called nano satellites. These easy-to-launch models are typically less expensive than their predecessors, so it’s no wonder there are about 1,000 new satellites launched every year.
Takeaway 2: Satellites take range and frequency of vegetation monitoring to a new level.
To keep up with labor-intensive vegetation inspections, a utility’s field force will drive from location to location, climb towers, examine areas, and submit reports.
Adding drones to the process can provide great pictures, but at limited range. LiDAR broadens that reach, as it emits its own light. Whether deployed by drone, airplane, or helicopter, LiDAR has a broad geographic range and can generate huge, detailed data sets, almost on the fly.
However, LiDAR recordings of these areas are typically infrequent, due to the effort, time and expense involved.
Satellites take LiDAR range and capability, and add scale, speed, and ease.
Also, since the satellite continues to take imagery of selected areas as it orbits the Earth, it automatically creates an archive. This means you can look at past reporting to predict future activity and answer industry challenges.
Takeaway 3: Satellites are actively helping to solve vegetation issues.
The ability to put historical information to work is where satellite technology shines.
For example, a line worker in a vehicle will note that lines in one area are passing through a grove of trees. Based on experience with tree types and typical growth rates, the line worker can anticipate new growth and where and when the lines are at risk.
Though this method is well founded, it doesn’t scale efficiently to whole forests.
On the other hand, a satellite that captures a wide swath of images every 24 hours or so can assemble detailed historical images across great distances.
These historical images can help predict the growth rate of all trees in the area, providing a more accurate picture of possible danger. They can also provide urgently needed details to wildfire management professionals, helping to identify risk areas, estimate direction and speed of active burn areas, and assess post-fire damage.
Beyond seeing the forest and the trees, today’s satellites dig deep into terrestrial data to help utilities and other core industries protect their assets and their communities.