I recently heard the futurist Sophie Hackford speak on the future of data. She predicted that the data we will value in the future is not "big data" but new types of data, such as satellite data, drone data, facial recognition data, connected car data and voice driven data.
Today the UK Space Agency announced that it will provide free access to archives of satellite images and data to Government departments, emergency services and local authorities to help tackle public sector challenges.
Projects already underway include identifying the best locations for electric vehicle charging points and monitoring of plastic pollution on shorelines.
This follows an announcement earlier this year by NASA that it has created an online resource to promote the commercial use of its Earth observation satellite data and the software tools needed to work with it.
To date, Governments and international space organisations have had a monopoly on satellite imagery but as the cost of space tech decreases, more commercial enterprises are launching their own satellites into orbit and selling the data they capture.
The public sector uses for satellite data are easy to see - planning, security, infrastructure, emergency response - but what are the commercial applications? Businesses that exploit the land such as agriculture, mining and construction will find multiple ways to take advantage of this additional data, from advance information on crop yields to identification of new prospecting sites to improved data on inaccessible areas and the geology of development sites.
Satellite data will also offer new opportunities for businesses to spy on their competitors. When combined with artificial intelligence tools, satellite imagery may help businesses to monitor the economic activity of rivals, gaining advance notice of factory expansions, changes in input/output of production facilities, predicting profit by counting customer cars in car parks.
As we gain access to new types of information, we will also need access to people who can interpret that information. Imagery analysts will be in demand in the private sector, having previously been trained and employed by the public sector.
We are in the midst of an information revolution and satellite imagery is another dataset that we will evaluate, exploit and rely on in the future.
The images will provide an unprecedented level of detail of major British cities, transport networks, national parks and energy infrastructure. This type of satellite data is already being used in a number of pilot projects. It has been combined with machine learning techniques to help Bournemouth Borough Council identify the best locations for electric vehicle charge points across the city. While the Environment Agency has trialled satellite images as a tool to monitor plastic pollution off Britain’s shoreline to support clean-up operations and protect wildlife. With a vast amount of new images now available for free, there is significant potential for further innovations.