For example, in 2017, heavy flooding flooded the town of Impfondo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but its remoteness made it difficult to send aid and determine the needs of the population. Working with the Congolese government and humanitarian groups, the Cloud to Street platform has reduced flood detection times from week to day and provided information on where to move refugees safely.
Initially, Cloud to Street’s clients were governments, their disaster arms, and organizations like the World Bank, which helped them figure out who to move and where and by giving them evidence they could use to push for funding. additional relief. Today, Cloud to Street is also working on more corporate activities, helping insurance companies take advantage of their risk and payment calculations. Either way, Schwarz says, they will need SAR. “It’s very clear that radar really has a prominent advantage that it’s hard to beat, that would always be necessary, and that’s when it’s flooded, it’s often cloudy and rainy,” he says. “That’s the direct advantage of that.”
Development of algorithms that it can analyze SAR data, but it is more difficult than creating data that can analyze images.
In part, this is an artifact of the limitations of the human brain. Some styles of data processing algorithms are based on how our brain analyzes visual information. But we do not perceive anything like SAR data. “It’s harder than dealing with optical data, because we don’t see it on the radar,” says Vijayan Asari, director of the Vision Lab at the University of Dayton, which has a SAR image analysis arm. “We don’t see it in the microwave.”
(The group, which collaborates with the Air Force Research Laboratory, among other organizations, is working on the use of SAR to detect and predict the activities of glaciers, another environmental application of this data. Glaciers are usually found in dark, cloudy parts of the planet.In addition to seeing through the darkness, SAR can also penetrate the top of the ice, revealing the dynamics of glacier flow as they melt and As an academic group, the lab will likely have to use data collected by Umbra or a competitor, along with information from public satellites such as Sentinel.)
Even the COO of Umbra had difficulty making SAR at first. “My first exposure was in terms of U.S. classified capabilities,” says Master, who was previously a program director at Darpa, the high-risk research agency and perhaps a reward for the defense department. “I think I came in with an attitude, which is like, ‘SAR is weird, it probably won’t tell you anything.'” After all, as he says, “our brain is tuned to our sensors.” (He means eyeballs.) But still, you can think of SAR as a “flashlight” that illuminates what your eyeballs are. they cannot distinguish by themselves.
SAR also has an advantage over high-definition visual satellites: radar satellites are cheap and (relatively) easy to make. They do not require a clean room or giant, precise mirrors. “The problem with optics is that resolution rules the day,” says Master, meaning that the sharper an optical image is, the more useful it is. “The resolution is driven by a big glass,” he says. “And big glass is expensive.”
Umbra’s business model is streamlined in the same way: it only sells data to groups like Cloud to Street instead of analyzing it. Morrison believes it is best to leave it to the specialists. Take Schwarz, says Morrison. “She wakes up in the morning, and from the moment she’s awake until her head touches the pillow, she’s thinking about the flood,” she says. He, meanwhile, seldom dreams of rising waters. (“I have a satellite to operate,” he says.)
But he hopes that once SAR data is available easily and relatively cheaply, more people will be wondering how it can help their own research or business, whether deforestation tracking, carbon credits, forest fires, shipments. of oil, military movements, leaking pipes or aged roofs. “There are a million of these little niches,” Morrison says. And some of these niches could prevent lives and livelihoods from sinking underwater.