A new space imaging company called EarthNow aims to provide not only images of the planet on demand, but also real-time videos wherever a customer wishes. His ambition has only matched his ancestry: Bill Gates, Intellectual Ventures, Airbus, Softbank, and OneWeb founder, Greg Wyler, support the play.
His promise is a constellation of satellites that will provide a video of anywhere on Earth with a latency of about one second. You will not have to wait for a satellite to arrive at range, or to worry about leaving the range; at least one will be able to see any area at any given time, so that they can move from the monitoring task to the next satellite if necessary.
Aimed at "high-value companies and government governments," EarthNow lists things like storm monitoring, illegal fishing vessels (or even pirates), forest fires, whale watching, and more. Spatial imagery is becoming a very crowded area – if all these constellations are actually launched, anyway.
The company is in the early stages right now, having been derived from the years of work of founder and CEO Russell Hannigan at Intellectual Ventures as part of the Invention Science Fund. Quite early, in fact, that there is no real timetable for prototyping or testing. But it's not just a pie in the sky.
Wyler's OneWeb connection means that EarthNow will be built on a massively improved version of this company's satellite platform. Details are scarce, but the press release promises that "each satellite is equipped with unprecedented embedded processing power, including more processor cores than any other commercial satellite combined."
Presumably, a lot of this will be video processing and compression hardware, because they will want to minimize bandwidth and latency, but do not want to skimp on quality. Efficiency is also important. Satellites have extremely limited power, so running multiple GPUs ready for use with standard compression methods is probably not a good idea. The video continues in real time from an orbit (as opposed to still images or sequences in near real time) is as much a software problem as a hardware problem.
The machine learning also figure, of course: the company plans to do an embedded analysis of imaging, but to what extent is not clear. It really makes more sense for me to do this on the ground, but maybe a first pass through the satellite equipment will help make things happen.
Airbus will do its part by producing satellites in Toulouse and Florida. The publication does not say how many will be built, but full (and probably redundant) Earth coverage means at least dozens. But if it is standard manufactured goods, this should bring down the price, relatively speaking anyway.
No word on the actual amount raised by the company in January, but with the size of the investors and the high costs involved in the industry, I can not imagine it to be less than a few tens of millions.
Hannigan himself calls EarthNow "ambitious and unprecedented", which could be considered a high-risk avowal, but it is clear that the company has powerful partners and a lot of expertise; Intellectual Ventures does not tend to let something go unless something special happens. Expect more details as the business grows, but I doubt we'll see anything other than renderings for a year or two.