Commercial Earth Observation | DigitalGlobe Analytics Targets Wide Swath of Commercial Apps
SAN FRANCISCO — Dominion Virginia Power, a utility company that supplies electricity to millions of customers in Virginia and North Carolina, might sound like an odd client for, the Longmont, Colo.-based company best known for the high-resolution satellite imagery it supplies to U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. In an effort to combat thieves who were stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in copper from the company’s substations every month, however, Dominion Virginia Power turned to an anti-theft campaign supported by DigitalGlobe Analytics, a corporate division formed in January when DigitalGlobe acquired rival satellite imaging provider of Herndon, Va., and its GeoEye Analytics unit.
By combining satellite, aircraft and ground-based imagery with data supplied by the utility company on the details of previous copper heists, DigitalGlobe was able to identify patterns, including the fact that substations targeted were close to scrap metal dealers.
“We were able to recommend where to better secure facilities and to reduce copper theft by 54 percent even though theft attempts were increasing,” said Tony Frazier, DigitalGlobe’s senior vice president for marketing and leader of the firm’s Insight business, which provides data, tools and services to enable advanced geospatial analytics.
That is the type of commercial business DigitalGlobe is seeking to expand by drawing on expertise the firm gained through its government work. More than 90 percent of DigitalGlobe’s business stems from its traditional sales of imagery drawn from its constellation of five satellites and related geospatial information. The vast majority of customers for those products are U.S. and international government agencies, many of whom are Direct Access Partners — customers approved by the U.S. government to obtain priority access to DigitalGlobe’s high-resolution imagery through equipment installed in the customer’s facilities.
Government agencies also are the primary customers for DigitalGlobe’s Insight line of business. Its single largest customer is the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla. Instead of simply supplying the Special Operations Command and its units around the world with imagery, DigitalGlobe Analytics employs teams of geospatial scientists, experts on particular regions and technologists to help military commanders answer specific questions, such as where to look for improvised explosive devices or where regional conflicts are likely to flare up. The technologists on those teams play an important role in identifying the proper tools to fuse disparate types of information, model likely outcomes and present the data in a format that helps DigitalGlobe’s customers gain a thorough understanding of a particular region or problem.
Increasingly, commercial customers are interested in obtaining similar information on local and regional issues that could affect their business operations around the world. “We see tremendous opportunity to diversify the [DigitalGlobe Analytics] business,” Frazier said. “In many of these emerging markets, including Africa, many parts of Asia and South America, economies are rapidly growing but these are high conflict areas where there is a lot of geopolitical risk.”
In addition to disseminating detailed, analytical information on various locations around the world through its own proprietary platforms, DigitalGlobe is working with ESRi, the mapping and technology giant based in Redlands, Calif. DigitalGlobe has invested heavily in designing its products to feed into ESRi’s ArcGIS mapping and spatial analysis software. “There is a lot of capability we can bring to augment those tools with better data and analytical capabilities,” Frazier said.
For example, DigitalGlobe is in beta testing of a product scheduled to be released commercially in 2014 called Human Landscape. Human Landscape would offer multiple layers of geospatial data on various countries, including many that rarely or infrequently gather and publish census data. To date, DigitalGlobe has compiled extensive data on 30 countries in Africa, South America and the Asia-Pacific region. That archive will allow DigitalGlobe to deliver analytic products quickly to customers trying to answer specific questions about an area of interest to their company or organization. It also will serve as a tool for customers seeking to augment their own analysis, Frazier said.
Potential customers include firms engaged in mining, oil and gas exploration, utility delivery and telecommunications. Companies and organizations that have large geographically dispersed missions and firms required to make long-term investments in infrastructure around the globe benefit from DigitalGlobe’s spatial analytic capabilities to help mitigate their risk, Frazier said.
As a an example, Frazier cites a customer that obtained DigitalGlobe’s help in finding an efficient way to combat thieves stealing crude oil from pipelines in Nigeria to sell on the black market. By applying statistical techniques, DigitalGlobe was able to help a customer anticipate areas where attacks were most likely to occur and focus its security efforts in those areas.
DigitalGlobe also has worked extensively with the Satellite Sentinel Project, an organization co-founded by actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast, to use satellites to provide warning and deterrence of atrocities. DigitalGlobe’s collaboration with the Satellite Sentinel Project demonstrates the potential of the company’s analytic capabilities to predict areas of danger.
“Interesting, that work has evolved from using imagery to document events that have occurred to using imagery and advanced spatial analysis capability to get predictive,” Frazier said. “We are using imagery to document settlements and villages and predict where an attack may occur. So we are able to help mitigate the threat.”