An agtech startup and a space company have joined forces to successfully trial a novel data system that reduces the amount of satellite information transmitted to Earth by 99 per cent, saving on expensive data storage costs and processing time for farm mapping and insights.
The Australian innovation is driven by Queensland-based DataFarming, together with New South Wales space edge computing organisation, Spiral Blue.
DataFarming Co-Founder, Tim Neale, has been using satellite mapping for more than 20 years to provide farmers and advisors with real-time insights to improve decision making.
“Satellites have been around for decades, but it really is in the last two years that things have really ramped up,” Mr Neale said.
“There was a 25 percent increase in the number of satellites in the last year alone so that means a lot more data than previously, as satellite resolution and timing is improving day by day.
“We can see there’s a problem with data volume as it is very costly to store all this information. There is also the environmental cost because of the greenhouse gas emissions of data storage.”
Approximately 30,000 farms currently use DataFarming’s crop monitoring tools, which provide essentially real-time satellite images, rapid auto-zoning of paddocks, multi-year analysis, and variable rate application files.
“We are able to process imaging at a 10 metre-by-metre level, every five days,” Mr Neale said.
“And every 10-metre pixel has eight layers of data. Already, this is an enormous volume of data, and with the improvement of resolution, soon we are going from eight bands to 150 with resolutions of some satellites now as fine as 30cm, so the data volumes are going through the roof.
“That’s a huge problem from a processing point of view but also a data storage point of view.”
The solution, developed by the two Australian tech start-ups, DataFarming and Spiral Blue, is currently being trialled to avoid the need to transmit raw data by processing the image on board the satellite, opposed to being processed on land, as it has been done in the past.
“Spiral Blue is putting next generation processors directly on the satellites,” Mr Neale said.
“DataFarming has created the algorithms which sit on that processing chip and process the data as the satellite obits and scans the Earth at 27,000km per hour – that’s 7km per second!”
Mr Neale said the first trial involved mapping the amount of canola crop in New South Wales.
“In the past we would download the data, store it on our computers, process it for hours, export the results, and so on. Now as the satellite is flying over it’s doing all the work for us up in space which is an incredible advancement. It can cut the amount of data needing to be transmitted by 99 per cent.”
“In agriculture, most industries don’t have definitive numbers of how much crop is being produced. This could allow us to run an algorithm onboard a satellite that flies over every cropping area in the world to give us feedback on how much crops are being grown globally, literally within hours. That’s a massive public good for food security and global market supply estimations.
“There could also be real-time, automated detection of diseases, pests, and weeds in crops. It could be automated deforestation detection. There are a million potential uses.
“This is a huge technological advancement, and it has been made right here in Australia.”
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About Spiral Blue
Spiral Blue is a Sydney-based SME focused on building the next generation of Earth observation services with artificial intelligence and Space Edge Computing. Spiral Blue technology has applications in defence, city planning, utilities, and other industries. Founded in 2018, the company has recently launched its first Space Edge Zero prototypes to orbit, and is now continuing to gather further in orbit performance data. Spiral Blue is a member of the Wolfpack Space Hub.
Spiral Blue was recently awarded the Minimum Viable Product Grant (MVP Grant) from the New South Wales state government. This was the result of a competitive application process. This grant will see Spiral Blue's first space edge computing product Space Edge Zero move from the proof of concept stage to the prototype stage.
Spiral Blue is one of the winners of the maiden Gravity Challenge. We were selected as one of the winners of the SA Power Networks Challenge, and awarded the Meteor Award for Most Innovative Use of Space Capability.
Spiral Blue has completed testing of components of Space Edge Zero in preparation for building a fully integrated prototype. This prototype is to be launched and tested in space in 2021. Discussions are currently underway with launch providers to make this happen.