Future Session #2: Mapping Impact through Earth Observation & Big Data Analysis

Using remote sensing technologies to map and track social and environmental impact

agenda April 2, 2019

On February 26, 2019, The Spindle, in collaboration with the Humanity Hub, organised the second Future Session of the year, which this time focused on Earth observation (remote sensing) and big data analysis. Experts of Space4Good facilitated the session, which was attended by a diverse audience featuring representatives from NGOs, social enterprises, businesses, government institutions and students.

With almost 5.000 satellites moving around the planet at this very moment, Space4Good introduced the participants to the fundamentals of Earth observation and briefly presented different technologies used in the field and their applications. On this basis, in the second part of the session participants were asked to design their own satellites to monitor and visualize the work they do.

Earth observation through remote sensing: satellites and more
The presentation started off with the basic question: what is remote sensing? Remote sensing fundamentally means observing the earth from a distance through sensors onboard satellites or aeroplanes. Other well-known Earth observation technologies include drones, aerial photography and radars. Observing phenomena from above offers the possibility of detracting oneself from them. This provides a different perspective on the observed reality.

Satellites exist in different type and serve different purposes (military, scientific, communication, weather, navigation etc.) but the main distinction is between commercial and non-commercial ones. The latter is open and free of charge and are generally made available by the government and (inter)governmental agencies. An illustrative example is the Copernicus programme of the European Union.

Earth observation techniques and remote sensing know a wide range of applications. They can be used for land use classification, differentiating inter alia types of vegetation, water and inhabited areas. Furthermore, such instruments permit to map flood risk, monitor coastal erosion and other social and environmental trends. This is where the utility and relevance of remote sensing for the development cooperation sector become evident. Accordingly, from theory we moved on to practice.

Time to design your own satellite!
In the second part of the session, participants had the chance to design their own satellite. Subsequently. they could pitch their proposal in order to (fictively) receive funding from the European Space Agency (ESA), represented in this game by Space4Good. The projects were highly diverse in nature and had very different purposes.

One project, called Bee Sat, concerned a satellite envisaged to map areas still inhabited by insects, using an ad-hoc designed “insect hospitality index”. The RefCity project proposed instead to use remote sensing to map the extension of refugee camps, which often evolve into informal settlements – and sometimes even cities. Another proposal, named Sunset Beach Box, was to use a satellite to monitor coastal areas in South Africa in order to identify ideal places for setting up resorts, on the basis of flood risks, currents and tides, corals and other tourism-specific features. All of the projects were approved by the Space4Good team – and, interestingly, many of them turned out to be already running in reality.

Has your interest in the topic been raised? Here you can find the whole Humanity Hub that was given by Space4Good.

Do you want to know more about data, (technological) trends and their relevance for the future of development cooperation? Join us in the next Future sessions! The upcoming one will be on the Data Journey Methodology which has been developed by Akvo and will take place on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

Future Session #1: Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

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Future Session #10 Open Innovation & Open Design

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Future Session #4: Mapping vulnerable groups with chatbots

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