Platform economy meets geospatial
When it comes to opening up a truly open geospatial platform which unites artificial intelligence, remote sensing data services and cloud computing, the new start-up UP42, powered by Airbus among others, is holding some good cards. “We want to be the backbone in powering different types of solutions.”
UP42 is set up as a third-party distribution channel for aerial imagery, algorithm services and computing capacity. You might want to compare this initiative, somewhat daringly, to eBay, AirBnB or even Amazon.
“It’s a two-sided marketplace, a partner-centric model for building a geospatial ecosystem powering data access and processing at scale”, explains Sean Wiid, CPO of UP42. Although this new company was born under the umbrella of Airbus Defence and Space, UP42 is set out from the start to be a neutral player-in-the-middle, without pushing the data sets coming out of Airbus.
“You might want to compare UP42 to a traditional factory: raw materials go in, and down the end of the line, there’s an end product coming out of it.” Here, he is referring to the ability of the platform to run processing pipelines using large amounts of ‘raw’ remote sensing data and processing algorithms from ITO World, Sentinel, Airbus and others.
“We facilitate Artificial Intelligence workflows capturing change, with a focus on infrastructure monitoring, environmental monitoring and precision agriculture”. Wiid continues: “It’s an on-demand product. We access data via API when it is needed and we scale our infrastructure up and down in real-time. Importantly, our customer’s data and algorithms are run in an isolated environment. So their IP is secure.”
Philosophy and focus
Whoever cooked up the company’s name had a vivid imagination, in linking us looking ‘UP’ in the sky (for satellites) to ‘the number 42’, a reference to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams.
According to this ‘guide’, 42 is the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’, as calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought. “In short: you’ll get insights from above”, quips Eli Tamanaha, CEO of UP42. Customers get to choose their needs and preferences in different blocks, UP42 leads them to the most appropriate combination of offerings. “We want to be the backbone powering different types of solutions.” One of the strong points of UP42s philosophy is its focus on usability.
“When geospatial data proves to be hard to use, we’ll run away. When geospatial data becomes easy to use, we’ll explore. And the potential of geospatial data is huge: in retail, real estate, forestry, insurance, you name it. We all still feel it’s hard to integrate data services out of earth observation data, let alone drones. API’s came up, there are digital interfaces, but this still needs a fair amount of coding.
To add to this, it’s hard to develop processing algorithms, it’s hard to set up a compute infrastructure. With UP42, we are mainly lowering the barrier to entry. We reach out to data sources, the infrastructure of UP42 integrates algorithms by third parties and we integrate them in our platform to make it all easier to use and to access.”
Start-up in Berlin
With their first team in Berlin, holding office in the übercool area of Kreuzberg, UP42 finds itself close to upcoming as well as established geospatial and location enterprises. HERE Technologies, TomTom, Geoliciouos, FATMAP and many others come to mind. These can very well be the users of UP42 services as well as use UP42 to distribute their own data and services. Operating out of Spain, the UK, Germany and France, Airbus has carefully set out Berlin to be the location of the new start-up.
“We were looking for a place where there’s equal access to capital and talent”, says Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Adding to that: other companies can have access to information through UP42’s platform. ‘They’ can be app developers, artificial intelligence companies, or they just use the data for their own business models. It’s all about collaboration, co-creating and crowd engineering to create unique information.”
During the official launch of UP42, there was a striking appearance of Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator for German Aerospace in the current German Federal Cabinet. “Berlin is indeed a great location to attract talent”, he said. “Seen from a policy standpoint: it’s all about data, open data…
The Airbus company data will be a good driver to data access where smaller companies can get access to data of bigger companies.” Jarzombek fully endorses UP42’s endeavor into the platform economy, combining it with newspace. “The role of the state is to provide open data, raw data, but no complete solutions. There is a red line: third parties like UP42 should be processing the data and add value.”
Partners and stakeholders
Another prominent face present during the launch event of UP42 was that of James Crawford, CEO of Orbital Insight. He popped in to sign his contract to become a partner. Among UP42’s first partners are Simularity and LiveEO.
They have been involved in the development and fine-tuning resulting in the platform that will be live for customers in August 2019. Peter Koning VP of Sales at Simularity says: “Our products are able to do complex scene identification and integrate SAR, optical, and multispectral bands from a variety of image providers, from satellites to drones.
We are excited to be a part of a platform which provides imagery, algorithms, data integration and great performance.” Daniel Seidel is co-founder of the Berlin based LiveEO. He is also one of the minds behind NewSpaceVision, a meetup platform with more than 1,000 members. “We’ll have to bring our geodata into places where the users are not geospatial experts. To them, other aspects are important, and UP42 understands this. For instance, they would like to know up front what they will be paying for satellite data.”
End-users and specialists
Amidst the enthusiastic claims that UP42 will drastically simplify the use of geospatial data arises the question what level of professional users UP42 is aiming at. CPO Sean Wiid explains: “Our platform works on at least three levels, one cannot expect our customers to be specialists in building and training machine learning algorithms, satellite data and big data processing at the same time.
Typically, they might be professionally working in one or two of these fields. They might feel strong and confident in one field, and weaker in another. Our off-the-shelf blocks and straightforward workflow will make it easy for them to find what they are looking for and get started quickly. It’s built into our platform.”