DigitalGlobe Working To Bring Crowdsourced Product Ideas to Market

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WASHINGTON — Remote Sensing firm DigitalGlobe received more than 500 submissions when it solicited imagery product ideas last year from the global research community, and the company hopes to start bringing the best of those to market by the end of the year, a DigitalGlobe official said May 13.

The company this year held a second round of competition for its Eight-band Research Challenge and will announce the winners at the ESRI International User Conference July 11-15 in San Diego, said Kumar Navulur, DigitalGlobe’s principle scientist and director of product management.

There were several reasons Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe first conceived the Eight-band Research Challenge, Navulur said in an interview. The primary impetus was to leverage the collective creativity and brain power of the remote-sensing user base across the world. The competition also served to introduce the community to the four additional spectral bands being collected by DigitalGlobe’s newest satellite, WorldView-2, which was launched in October 2009.

“We are 600 people in Longmont, and there are 6 billion people out there,” Navulur said. “There is quality in quantity. The whole thing philosophically is we have to leverage the intellectual property of various people across the globe. We cannot invent everything here in Longmont.”

For the first phase of the competition, the proposals had to meet three criteria: the product had to be relevant to the current remote sensing market; it had to apply all eight spectral bands; and the application of the technology had to have multiple uses — for example, a land color product that could be used for both urban development and forestry applications, Navulur said. He expected perhaps 80 submissions; in the end, research institutions around the world submitted some 550 proposals.

DigitalGlobe was able to provide about 100 contestants with between 100 and 200 square kilometers of imagery to demonstrate their concept. A panel of five judges including DigitalGlobe co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Walter Scott considered the proposals and selected five winners in December, who were awarded prizes of $5,000 apiece.

The winners of the first phase of the competition were James F. Bramante from the National University of Singapore; Christoph C. Borel from the Air Force Institute of Technology; Jeremy M. Kerr from the National Coral Reef Institute at Nova Southeastern University; Hamdan Omar from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia; and Antonio Wolf from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

DigitalGlobe is now in the product development phase for these winning submissions and several more, Navulur said. The company is working with the winning organizations to further validate the accuracy of the data products by demonstrating them over different areas of the world during different seasons and comparing the imagery products to ground measurements.

“When we talk about information products derived from remote sensing, we always need information that is collected on the ground, so having research institution partners across the globe is a very good way of developing products,” Navulur said.

The company expects to begin beta testing some of its new imagery products with customers in September in the hopes of bringing them to market by the end of the year.

At the same time, DigitalGlobe is in the midst of a second round of competition with more rigorous requirements. This time around, the focus was on accuracy, and contestants had to collect ground samples to compare their products against, Navulur said. About 100 proposals were received by the April 8 deadline, and those have now been whittled down to the top 25 papers. DigitalGlobe is now in the process of selecting a panel of judges, which will again include Scott, he said.

The second phase of competition generated several hundred requests for extended deadlines, so DigitalGlobe will continue the Eight-band Research Challenge in some form going forward, Navulur said.