ST. LOUIS — Synthetaic, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to analyze data from space and air sensors, announced May 22 that former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Robert Cardillo has joined its board of directors. 

The Wisconsin-based company made headlines earlier this year when its founder Corey Jaskolski used Planet Labs’ satellite imagery archive to trace the path of the Chinese spy balloon that flew across the United States.

Cardillo is chairman of the board of Planet Labs Federal. As a board member of Synthetaic, he will help the company build its defense and intelligence business.

“There is more geospatial imagery available than ever before” but knowing how to extract meaningful insights from that data remains a challenge, Cardillo told SpaceNews

Synthetaic was able to quickly mine Planet’s archive with a tool called RAIC, short for Rapid Automatic Image Categorization, which analyzes unsupervised data. Unlike most AI systems, it doesn’t require pre-trained models or extensive image labeling.

“When you can automatically and near instantly search planetary-scale datasets, the possibilities are endless,” said Cardillo.

Jaskolski came up with a way to use algorithms that “truly scale because they don’t require the traditional approach of hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training to teach the computer what to go find,” he said. 

Cardillo said Jaskolski alerted him that he had found the Chinese balloon in Planet’s imagery archive over South Carolina where the U.S. military shot it down. 

“I told him that’s awesome,” Cardillo said. “Finding it over South Carolina is cool. But being able to turn the clock back and go back in time, that would be really amazing,” he added. “It was timely. It was relevant.”

Jaskolski said the RAIC tool is not perfect every time, but “it learns as it goes. It is an iterative process,” he said. “It’s a human-machine collaboration.”

“If you start a RAIC search from scratch, as you get more and more positive hits, you nudge it in the right direction and it improves.”

Planet’s partnerships with AI startups

Planet Labs on May 22 announced it signed an official partnership with Synthetaic that gives Planet’s customers access to the RAIC tool.

“Through this partnership, customers are now able to obtain Synthetaic RAIC object detection analytics on top of a defined area of interest within Planet data. The companies also plan to develop a combined offering that aims to enable additional alerting capabilities when change occurs or specific objects are detected within focus areas,” Planet said in a statement.

Planet also announced a new partnership with Deajeon, South Korea-based startup SI Analytics, which applies AI-powered Super Resolution and GeoAI Analytics, Object Detection/Segmentation algorithms, to satellite imagery in order to enhance the resolution to analyze changes and abnormalities for the areas of interest.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...