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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

EAS2017: The Future of Earth Observation

October 5th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

A few weeks ago, I attended the 2017 ENVI Analytics Symposium (EAS) in Denver, CO.

The Symposium was put together by Harris Geospatial Solutions. Harris developed ENVI, image analysis software for image scientists, image analysts, and GIS professionals to extract accurate and meaningful information from many kinds of data.

ENVI is designed to be used by anyone who relies on imagery and data to make decisions and provides expert-level results across the board, regardless of a user’s prior experience with imagery.

ENVI is flexible and can be customized to meet specific project needs and can be deployed and accessed from the desktop, in the cloud, and on mobile devices. Fully integrated with ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS for Server from ESRI, users can access ENVI tools directly within the Arc environment to add image analysis capabilities to their GIS models and applications.

ENVI supports imagery from most popular satellite and airborne sensors, including multispectral, hyperspectral, panchromatic, LiDAR, infrared, thermal, radar, HDF5, full-motion video, LAZ, ASCII, and NET CDF-4. ENVI includes a comprehensive suite of image analysis tools that provide customers with proven algorithms for quickly and accurately analyzing imagery.

The theme of the 2017 ENVI Analytics Symposium was “Analytical Solutions in a Data-Rich World.” With the staggering volume of commercial and open-source data that is becoming available, organizations will need to quickly transition to new business and service models to be successful. Agility, technology, and innovation will separate the winners from the losers. The intent of the EAS conference was to help attendees keep their finger on the pulse of this fast-growing and dynamic market of commercial geospatial Big Data analytics with topics that included:

      • The Future of Earth Observation
      • Commercial Analytic Platforms
      • The Business of Geospatial Analytics
      • Analytic Innovations and Remote Sensing
      • Advances in GEOINT Tradecraft – Geospatial Modeling
      • Machine Learning at Scale
      • Industry Solutions and Geospatial Analytics
      • Adding the Temporal Dimension to Geospatial Analytics

Dr. Walter Scott of Digital Globe talked about unlocking the full potential of earth observation and the most critical issue is less about data itself and more about what you can do with it. Terabytes of remote sensing data being collected daily, so how do you get >100 Petabytes of data into the cloud and analyze at this scale? Increasingly massive amounts of remote sensing data being powered by cloud/web services will make partnerships essential, since no one company can go it alone and do it all.

In his talk about the future of the geospatial data supply chain management, John Delay, Geospatial Solutions Architect, Harris Corp. recommended buying stock in cloud data storage companies because with the amount of EO data coming in, you can’t lose.

Minimize complexity to get a bigger prospective user base and make the data open , because today, only data scientists can truly understand the majority of EO data. In other words, data analytics has a long way to go for being universally useful, and big players must come together to make this happen. A partner ecosystem is essential for creating and consuming EO data, as well as contributing to algorithms and platform development.

He proposed that service should be offered as a platform, and that platform should provide automation to minimize human interaction and input

Like many industries, data interoperability is a big problem and is critical for repurposing the data for new use cases, so he stressed a need to focus on data exchange with real data standards – this is absolutely essential.

Going beyond data silos, Mark Korver, Geospatial Lead, Amazon Web Services (AWS), said that the world is moving quickly to data that can be accessed from virtually any device with a Web browser. Everybody is a looking to the cloud to solve the enormous data problem, and he sees geometric growth for data gathering and creation.

He sees a general migration to cloud for data storage and computing, but monetizing data is crucial for future growth. Don’t just store data in the cloud, but use and share it through collaborative efforts because the cloud has much more potential than just a place to stash data with the potential processing power provided by virtual machines.

Nicolas Stussi, VP Business Development, Airbus Defence and Space discussed new satellite and airborne imagery assets from Airbus. He said that artificial intelligence is powering analytics with more data demanding evermore computing power, increasingly cloud based. Data is becoming the world’s most valuable resource, and EO data is king, but can’t be free of charge. He was happy to announce that remote sensing is receiving much less government investment and much more private investment, which makes it much more sustainable. He also proclaimed that EO analytics are becoming democratized and not just for analyst/specialists anymore.

He then went on to discuss two major Airbus initiatives — a new 2020 advanced EO constellation with 30-cm resolution and Airbus Defense and Space’s Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS), a new breed of solar-powered aircraft designed to circle in the Earth’s stratosphere, able to launch, land and re- deploy like a hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle while offering consistent, satellite-like Earth observation and communication services – at a fraction of the cost. For example, replacing one conventional unmanned aircraft with a Zephyr would save 2,000 tons of fuel per year.

The new HAPS solar array collects 40% more sunlight and the craft is able to carry 50% more batteries. With a wingspan of 25 meters, the latest Zephyr is larger, but 30% lighter than its predecessor.

In addition, the latest version can also operate beyond line of sight, via satellite. This means that a crew of five can hand- launch Zephyr from any flat piece of land in, let’s say, Mexico, and another crew can collect it in Germany a month later.

Because of Airbus DS’s experience with satellite payload technology, Zephyr can be equipped to perform a whole number of different long-term observation scenarios.

The Zephyr team is also busy designing a further, twin-boomed version of the HAPS, which will be able to accommodate a bigger payload and will specialise in maritime surveillance.

Stussi concluded his presentation with the though that we are going from earth observation to using that collected data for true earth modeling.

All in all, EAS2017 was a very interesting event with intriguing prospects for the future of earth observation and the data that is fast becoming the world’s most valuable resource.

You can learn more about the ENVI Analytics Symposium and Harris Geospatial Solutions by going to

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