[Via Satellite 12-02-2014] Data and satellite imagery startup OmniEarth has inked East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) as its first customer. The company is in the process of raising capital for a constellation of 18 Earth imaging satellites to collect space-based data. Ball Aerospace is contracted to build the satellites, and Spaceflight Inc. is assisting in finding rideshare opportunities to bring the constellation online by 2018. But even without any spacecraft in orbit, OmniEarth has created a product to address a growing need in California.
“Right now the big initial product that we are rolling out, that we already have our first customer for is a water-resource management product,” Lars Dyrud, president and CEO of OmniEarth told Via Satellite. “EBMUD, San Francisco’s municipal water management utility, has already signed up to use this product and we are excited to bring it to the rest of the state over the course of the next year.”
Dyrud said California has lost $2.2 billion due to its ongoing drought, and a legal requirement has been placed upon municipalities to reduce water consumption by 20 percent by 2020. OmniEarth created a product that uses aerial imagery in lieu of satellite imagery — which comes with the added benefit of higher resolution — combined with parceled plot-line information and water meter data to help municipalities understand where and how water gets used. By combining automatic land classification with predictive analytics, the company is able to identify the top drivers of water use.
“In California it’s dominated by the number of square feet of grass that a homeowner has,” Dyrud explained. “The other factors that are important, besides the house, the square footage of trees plays the second most effect, probably because of shading. More shaded lines evaporate less water, for example.”
OmniEarth focuses on building datasets and using them to create enterprise insights. Dyrud, a founding member of the company, said the miniaturization of satellite components and the improvement of computing technologies made now the opportune time to pursue this business idea. OmniEarth is designing its satellite system, which will consist of 15 active satellites and three in-orbit spares, and leveraging partners like Ball Aerospace to detail designs that can be built. This allows the company to focus on desired core competencies and create more products.
“Agriculture is our next product focus. [There is] substantial growth in digital agriculture and most of the major agriculture companies are realigning and establishing their next generation digital agriculture strategy for the future. Making measurements using satellites for very large areas of land is something that’s right in our wheelhouse,” said Dyrud.
OmniEarth has not limited its focus to satellites either. As evidenced by the use of aerial imagery to serve the company’s first customer, OmniEarth is looking at other devices that carry sensors, which can then be used to take measurements and create or supplement datasets.
“We are currently working on a project with cell phone sensors with another company to create fleet management tool sets that not only tell where drivers are, but helps them understand driver behavior and things like that using the sensors on the phone,” said Dyrud. “Cellphone sensors are something just as exciting.”
To create valuable datasets using satellites, OmniEarth is emphasizing accuracy in geo-referencing down to a couple of centimeters. The constellation plan calls for each satellite to orbit seven minutes behind the next, each covering a 200-kilometer swath. The coverage will overlap by 20-kilometers, creating a constant flow of data that can be compared to calibrate for accurate and precise measurements. Together, the satellites will image the entire Earth once per day at a two-meter panchromatic and five-meter multi-spectral resolution.
Following water-management and agriculture, OmniEarth is eyeing the energy sector for future products. Dyrud said OmniEarth is working with several players in the energy sector that are guiding product development as part of the startup’s energy board. Other target markets include forest management, border security and emergency response.
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