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Per aspera, ad astra: supporting the uptake of geospatial solutions through their effective communication and exploitation

Dimitri Papadakis and Lefteris Mamais are two entrepreneurs who launched their start-up consulting firm Evenflow in January of this year, with an eye on turning the promise of space technology into benefits for decision-makers, businesses and the wider public. The co-founders discuss the opportunities that new, free and open data and services, such as those provided by the EU flagship programmes Copernicus and Galileo, offer to the geospatial industry, and the challenges linked to their exploitation.

The breadth, volume and impact of geospatial applications is continuously growing. Examples of new and innovative applications abound, from monitoring the ground deformation caused by earthquakes (e.g. Chile and Nepal) and using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to map diamond mines in Africa to exploiting the geo-location capabilities of mobile devices within citizen observatory projects. Despite the troubling global economic climate, the growth and economic output of the geospatial sector in recent years has been remarkable; it generates between $150 and $270 Bn annually, and recent studies project an annual growth of 8-10% for the global market.

There is a host of good reasons behind this growth: the massive explosion in global smartphone sales (1 Bn in 2013) driven largely by the development of successful location-based apps; the emergence of new Earth Observation business models backed by risk capital (e.g. Skybox, Planet Labs, Urthecast); the development of sophisticated cloud-based platforms for intensive data processing (e.g. CloudEO); significant public investment in the development of EO and GNSS-based downstream services; and, of course, the increasing availability of new, free and open data sources.

The constellation of Copernicus Sentinels (Credits ESA)
The constellation of Copernicus Sentinels (Credits ESA)

The constellation of Copernicus Sentinels (Credits: ESA)

The advent of Copernicus’ free, full and open data policy, the reality of the multi-GNSS era, and the rapid uptake of UAV– or crowd-sourced data, create ample opportunities for the development of innovative applications while challenging the resourcefulness of entrepreneurs and service providers. These new and enhanced data sources, forming part of a “data revolution”, promise to address a range of societal challenges and create economic benefits across a number of domains, via their exploitation in the form of value-adding “downstream” services. Cost-effective road transport, increased agricultural yields, efficient emergency management services and robust climate change monitoring are just a few examples of the benefit areas which such downstream services support.

The need for informed, sound and often real-time decision-making is driving the improvement of existing applications and the development of new ones, and hence, the growth and evolution of the geospatial sector. Citizens, business managers and policy makers alike stand to benefit and profit from the combination of multiple new, free and open sources of geospatial data in tailored downstream applications and services.

Per aspera…

In fulfilling this need, a number of challenges need to be overcome. Managing, ensuring the interoperability of, and extracting value from multiple sources of data calls for new tools and methodologies. A storm of activity is now brewing around the theme of “Big Data for Space”, both within public institutions and in the private sector.

The development of new and innovative geospatial solutions requires the systematic identification of end-user requirements, whilst new user communities also need to be identified and made aware of the potential benefits to their industries or activities. Only in the last few years, for example, has the insurance industry started to systematically use Earth Observation data for its risk and damage assessment functions.

Moreover, the exploitation of the opportunities presented by these solutions requires knowledge of potential new markets, and the development of effective commercialisation strategies. This will be further supported in the long term by the availability of a highly-skilled workforce equipped not only to carry out the relevant science and technology aspects but also effectively link them to societal and business needs (See quote by DVW President Thöne here).

…ad astra

Inspired by the complexity and intrinsically synergetic nature of the geospatial sector (across disciplines, skills and nations), and driven to address the above challenges, Evenflow was founded in January 2015. Our aspiration to support the broader uptake of geospatial solutions builds on our combined experience of the space sector in both institutional and commercial settings, and our extensive engagement with key stakeholder groups, i.e. academia and industry, as part of R&D projects or in the context of consulting activities.

Evenflow strives to communicate the various aspects of geospatial solutions to the respective user communities, raise their awareness vis-à-vis the corresponding business opportunities, engage them together with industrial or academic stakeholders in the implementation of novel collaborative R&D projects and, finally, support the intelligent exploitation of those projects’ results.

Examples of the APOLLO advisory services for small farmers (Credits: APOLLO consortium)
Examples of the APOLLO advisory services for small farmers (Credits: APOLLO consortium)

A concrete case which exemplifies the challenging yet highly inspiring nature of our work as young professionals in the geospatial sector is a Horizon 2020 project which Evenflow recently won. The APOLLO project will use free and open data from the Copernicus Sentinels 1 and 2 (complemented with other sources) to provide small farmers with a suite of services, including irrigation scheduling, crop growth monitoring and crop yield estimation. Evenflow is leading the communication and exploitation activities which will contribute towards tapping the reservoir of future potential users, and enable the creation of a sustainable commercial downstream service.

In summary, the continuous growth of geospatial services and their increasing tangible impact on a wide range of societal needs comes with its own challenges: the complex fusion of technological aspects, business considerations and end-user requirements, and the development of sustainable strategies for exploitation, communication and uptake amongst the relevant communities. As the data revolution gathers pace, the doors are wide open for new and innovative geospatial services to overcome these challenges, and head for the stars: Per Aspera, Ad Astra. 

Dimitri Papadakis and Lefteris Mamais
Co-Founders and Directors of Evenflow, Belgium