Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Google's Sky Imaging Plans Get "Up to the Creepy Line"

Google's recent efforts have taken to the skies.  From Project Loon using overhead balloons to provide rural internet access to using the tiny satellites of Skybox to catalogue detailed photos and video from high above the earth, its latest projects are one step from intrusive spying on the earth. Chairman Eric Schmidt has joked that the company’s policy is to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

But what are the company's high-flying new initiatives really after? Are drones, balloons and mini spy satellites moving from scifi fiction to Defense Department nightmare to corporate innovation?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Now Google is going for the bird’s-eye view. Last year it announced Project Loon, a seemingly quixotic foray into high-altitude balloons. Two months ago it acquired Titan Aerospace, a startup that makes high-altitude solar-powered drones. And this week it paid $500 million for Skybox Imaging, a startup that builds tiny satellites that can shoot high-resolution photos and videos of the Earth below. The latest rumors have Google in talks with Richard Branson’s space-tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

Ask Google what all the balloons, drones, and satellites are for, and you’ll get an answer straight from the mouth of a Miss America contestant. Why, they’re for bringing Internet access to the world’s poor, improving Google Maps, fighting deforestation, and aiding in humanitarian relief efforts!

I don’t doubt that Google is sincere in those goals. Project Loon in particular seems to have hatched from a genuine desire to find new ways of providing Internet access to rural areas. (At this point, there are no downward-facing cameras on the balloons, unlike on the drones and satellites.) But it’s hard to fathom that a company as strategically minded as Google would buy a drone company and a satellite company just to lend a helping hand to some NGOs. As for Google Maps, it already gets high-quality satellite imagery from a company called DigitalGlobe, and as the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer points out, the two firms just signed a new multi-year agreement.

It’s important to understand that Skybox is not just another satellite-imaging company. To fully grasp its potential—and its natural affinity with Google’s mission—you have to look more closely at what it was doing before Google bought it. Fortunately, we have a marvelously high-resolution snapshot in the form of an in-depth feature article that David Samuels wrote for Wired a year ago. The headline: 'Inside a Startup’s Plan to Turn a Swarm of DIY Satellites Into an All-Seeing Eye.'

Commercial imaging satellites tend to be big, expensive, and seriously high-tech, which is why there are fewer than a dozen in orbit today. But Skybox has found a way to make them cheap and light, using ingenious image-processing software to cover the hardware’s shortcomings. So far, it has only launched one, which can only shoot 90 seconds of video at a time. With enough resources, though, Skybox could launch dozens of them, generating near-real-time images of any spot on the globe throughout the day. That’s like having a closed-circuit TV network that covers the whole world."

This is a full motion HD 60-second video captured by SkySat-1 on March 25, 2014. Please click on the HD toggle to see the video in full resolution.

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