The Radiant.Earth project is an example of our overall mission of public good, says Vincent Seaman, Sr. Program Officer, Gates Foundation.
What is Gates Foundation’s involvement in Radiant.Earth?
The Foundation will provide financial support to Radiant.Earth for the term of the grant period. Additional financial support will be determined based on the progress and impact of the Radiant.Earth platform. Aside from hosting the grant kickoff — ‘Thought Leaders’ meeting earlier this year, the Foundation’s role will be limited to financial support as we do not have the technical expertise or bandwidth to advise the grantee in other matters.
Why did the Foundation think of getting involved in a venture like this?
The Foundation invests in work that supports specific program strategies such as, eradication of polio, malaria and, to a lesser degree, work that supports our overall mission and/or represents a ‘public good’. The Radiant.Earth project is an example of the latter. While it does not provide direct benefit to any of the Foundation’s priority areas, it is viewed as a public good that can potentially provide value to the global development and global health communities. The idea for the Radiant.Earth platform did not originate at the Foundation; rather we were approached by the grantee and Omidyar who made a successful bid for funding this work.
Why is it critical to have an open sat imagery for non-profit across the world?
We already have public access to satellite imagery through Google Earth, Bing Maps, and other services. However, these resources are limited to viewing imagery and have only basic tools for the user. The US government makes available a large number of imagery-related products, but accessing them requires a moderate level of technical expertise and knowledge of what is available, and where to look. Many institutional users have purchased high-resolution satellite imagery that is licensed to share with non-profit groups, and sometimes the public. There is also a growing body of aerial imagery captured by airplanes and drones that the owners are willing to share. But in all of these cases, there is not a convenient vehicle to do so. The Radiant.Earth platform offers a ‘one-stop-shop’ for imagery of all kinds and will include an array of analytical and visualization tools that can be accessed by users at all levels.
What are your views about open data? How can this humongous amount of data be opened up for innovation?
The Foundation strongly supports the concept of open data, and we make every effort to provide public access to data that is collected through our grants. This is one of the main reasons we are supporting this project. Innovation will occur as a natural consequence if the project is successful.
Gates Foundation has been using geospatial data in a lot of its projects. What value does it add to your work?
‘Geospatial’ is just an aspect of all data – everything happens somewhere, and the ‘where’ is the geospatial part. When data has a geospatial component, it is like adding another dimension, which in most cases greatly enhances its value and allows for more sophisticated analyses. We are using geospatial data successfully in the fight to eradicate polio and malaria, support routine immunization and public health strengthening, provide information to small shareholder farmers about crop yields and productivity, and many other areas.
What are your plans for reaching out into the unconnected communities of the developing world?
The Foundation does most of its work in developing countries, and we will take every opportunity to connect potential users to the Radiant.Earth platform. One of the challenges is that there are relatively few sophisticated users of satellite imagery in developing countries, due to their lack of technical infrastructure and training. For example, the Radiant.Earth platform will depend on a robust internet connection – something that does not exist currently in most of these places.
There are multiple sources of data – some private, some national, and each has their own data policies. How will all this data be shared keeping in mind the diverse policy and regulatory environments?
Radiant.Earth can grant access to the various datasets based on their licensing and regulatory requirements. There will be some data that users must pay for, other datasets may only be available for non-profit entities, etc.