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Jed Sundwall elaborates on how Cloud and geospatial data will further the innovation

Jed Sundwall, Open Data Lead, Amazon Web Services

The platform will also promote creation of open source tools Jed Sundwall, Open Data Lead, Amazon Web Services

What is Amazon’s involvement in Radiant.Earth? Are you offering only the Cloud platform or there is more than that?

We have given Radiant.Earth grants of Amazon Web Services (AWS) promotional credits to help them get started building their platform, and there are definitely benefits to AWS that go beyond our services. Along with the Cloud infrastructure, Radiant.Earth also gains access to a vibrant ecosystem of potential users. A large and growing community of startups, enterprises, government agencies, and academic researchers use AWS to analyze geospatial data. That community is incredibly collaborative and Radiant.Earth is already benefitting from open source tools that other AWS users have created to work with geospatial data on AWS. Simultaneously, that community is going to benefit tremendously from the data that Radiant.Earth will make available on the Cloud.

Why do you think a platform like Radiant.Earth is important and crucial at this juncture?

We live in a world where drones and satellites are producing massive volumes of open Earth observation data, and the Cloud has made it possible for anyone to analyze that data on demand. In fact, the GIS market is expected to grow at 11.4 percent $14.6 billion markets by 2020. The trick, however, is giving people access to the data. Radiant.Earth is important because it has the wherewithal and mission to make these new troves of data accessible at a scale never before seen.

What difference do you think Radiant.Earth brings to the market?

What we have done with Landsat on AWS and the datasets listed on Earth on AWS have shown people what all is possible when you make earth observation data available in the Cloud. Radiant.Earth is able to take what we have demonstrated and improve upon it by opening up more kinds of Earth observations data and focusing on using it to address critical societal and environmental challenges.

What do you think is the value of geospatial data for humanity?

It is incalculable. This data can be used to provide crop insurance, monitor land use policies, ensure land rights, and enable research and growth in dozens of other fields. For example, when AWS launched the Landsat dataset, we were amazed by the level of interest in the data from around the world — within six months of launch, we had received more than half a billion requests, which supports just how valuable the data is. Just a few of the ways Cloud-based geospatial data has made an impact include enabling a start-up to deliver cutting edge agricultural analysis to farmers and empowering researchers to monitor global deforestation. Essentially, making this data easier to access is going to allow us to know a lot more about our world and make better decisions to protect human wellbeing and our natural resources.

How will Radiant.Earth open up geospatial data for further innovation?

By making data available in a public Cloud environment, Radiant.Earth is allowing everyone to use whatever tools they want to analyze the data, which will enable much more innovation. This will promote the creation of open source tools, and enable the creation of proprietary tools too. The important thing is that it gives data users complete flexibility over how they choose to analyze the data.

What are your views about open data? How can the humongous amount of data be opened up for innovation?

Opening up data does not magically solve problems or create start-ups. Organizations sometimes make the mistake of launching an open data portal thinking their job is done. The first thing you need to think about when trying to open up data for innovation is if there is a real demand for insights you can get from the data. You have to think beyond simple “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” questions, and think about actual problems that can be solved with the data, and who will benefit from cost savings as those problems are solved. As far as opening humongous amounts of data

As far as opening humongous amounts of data are concerned, that can only be done in Cloud. Earlier, if you wanted to share 100TB of data, you would need 100TB of storage space, and then you would need to figure out how to get a copy of that data. Then, you would also need the computer power to run analysis on it. This severely limited the number of potential users and the innovation that could take place. When data is staged for analysis in the Cloud, anyone can analyze it without needing to download or store their own copy. The Cloud grants equal access to data. Putting data on the Cloud really democratizes access to the data.

What are some ways in which you would like AWS and its community to collaborate using open imagery in novel ways?

I have been blown away by some of the innovations we have seen in user interface design in this area. One of my favorites is ObservedEarth, which is an iPhone app for browsing Landsat data hosted on AWS. This is really complex data, and it can be challenging to navigate and understand. I hope that we can get a lot more students and amateurs looking at this data and thinking of completely new ways to interact with it. If they can create more approachable interfaces, they will allow more people to dig into the data for insights.

How do you think Radiant.Earth can facilitate this and support these efforts?

Radiant.Earth has already done a great job of convening people and identifying really important problem areas on which to collaborate. Radiant.Earth really strives to serve the community by making data more accessible through its platform and helping people navigate the data. I am looking forward to seeing them continue that.

How has Cloud been a game changer? What are some possible innovations in Cloud technologies that will lead to wider consumption of satellite imagery?

The Cloud has given people access to tremendous amounts of computing power without requiring them to buy their own computers. Today, if you want to experiment with a computer that has 16 GPUs, or 2TB of RAM, you can do that on AWS right now without having to buy and configure an expensive piece of hardware. Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS has said that “Invention requires two things: one, the ability to try a lot of experiments, and two, not having to live with the collateral damage of failed experiments.” Now that people will be able to experiment with massive volumes of imagery, using whatever computing tools they want, yet without the risk of heavy investment in physical capital, we have poised to see a lot of innovation in this space.