Planet Continues to Build Visual Database of Earth

Will Marshall talks about his microsatellites and the data they've collected in the last four years.

Will Marshall and his engineers at Planet have a simple mission – “to image the entire Earth every day and make global change visible, accessible, and actionable.” In his TED Talk The mission to create a searchable database of Earth’s surface Marshall discusses the progress made over the last four years since the company launched their micro-satellites.

The end of Marshall’s talk is the clearest idea of the group’s goal for me – he says that Google created a full searchable index of the internet, and Planet is trying to create a full searchable index of the Earth. The first mission of the satellite project was to take images of the earth every day and create a database showing the surface over time. Marshall calls this mission now accomplished, thanks to twenty one rocket launches in the last four years. Two hundred and seven Planet satellites are in orbit sending data to 31 ground stations across the world, sending 1.5 million images of 29 Megapixel quality every day. The group’s next mission is to bring machine learning to the images and allow users to count how many trucks, planes, or dogs are in a set of data over time.

Marshall talks about the current users of the group’s data; governments use the images for border security and disaster response, NGOs use it as a tool for stopping deforestation or searching for refugees, and agricultural companies are using images to increase crop yields. A new feature called Planet Stories now allows any user to go online, create an account, and search the database and create a set of images over time, sharable over social media and free for nonprofit use.

We’ve covered Will Marshall and Planet before when the company was beginning to develop their tools, and this is a great update to the project. The last talk ended with the question of what you would do if you had access to the entire world’s visual data, and this new installment is a great summary of some of the database solutions that users have built with this incredible tool. These image sets are now satellite-created tools allowing engineers to make better decisions and create new and useful projects.