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How BlackSky uses AI to analyze satellite views

Color-coded satellite view
A color-coded satellite map of an area in northern Virginia shows that parking lots around Dulles Town Center are relatively open, as noted by the oval-shaped patchwork of green blocks just above the center of the image. But other parking lots, noted in shades of orange and red, are relatively busy. Such geospatial information can serve as a measure of economic activity and traffic congestion. (BlackSky Image)

How do you know when a region’s economy has recovered from the coronavirus pandemic? You could wait for the verdict from the unemployment figures, gather reports from individual businesses and scan news reports about business reopeniings. You could count how many cars show up in the parking lots of factories and shopping centers. Or you could just let Spectra do all of that.

Seattle-based BlackSky’s Spectra geospatial data platform can combine satellite imagery and other data inputs to generate insights that are greater than the sum of their parts. It’ll even use AI-enabled image recognition to count the cars.

As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, Spectra is learning how to recognize the early signs of recovery, or the telltale signs of a rebound.

“That’s what BlackSky is really all about: How can we inform you that something is happening, or something is going to happen, before you hear it from anywhere else?” said Patrick O’Neil, director of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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