Asking Orbital Insight about Sustainable Manufacturing from Space. [Consider the Future of Earth Together with Serika Ito #4]

Even though we call “space development”, there are various purposes, technologies, and missions.

In this series, we consider the current situation and the future of space development together with our Chief Dream Officer(CDO) of WARPSPACE, Serika Ito.

In this 4th article, we welcome Mike Kim from Orbital Insight, a Silicon Valley startup company, as our guest.

Orbital Insight provides a platform to analyze economic activities using big data such as satellite data and geospatial information. This platform is said to contribute to sustainable manufacturing, but what exactly does it mean?

Orbital Insight, a Startup Company Founded by a Leading AI Research Scientist.

Mike: Nice to meet you, my name is Mike Kim and I am the general manager of Orbital Insight’s Asia Pacific region and the general manager of the Tokyo office.

Mike Kim ©︎ Orbital Insight

Your blue suit has a NASA patch on it. We and NASA have a deep connection.

©︎chuya koyama/KODANSHA

Serika: What do you mean?

Mike: Dr. James Crawford, the leading AI researcher who founded Orbital Insight, was one of the people responsible for developing the autonomous software on board the rover for NASA’s Mars Exploration Project! Because of that background, we still have a close relationship with NASA, and there are engineers from NASA in our company.

Serika: I didn’t know that! When I am assigned to missions, I often receive training at NASA facilities, so I feel close to them.

By the way, why did Dr. Crawford start developing solutions using satellite data? It seems to me that Mars exploration rover development and satellite data are completely different areas.

Mike: He is known not only for space exploration, but also for leading the development of ”Google Books”, a full-text book search service, and developing solutions using climate data.

His motto, “Revealing what is happening on the Earth and the Earth itself” which he consistently values in his personal and professional life, is directly the mission statement of Orbital Insight.

©︎ Orbital Insight

“Orbital Insight Go” is mainly capable of vehicle and vessel detection and dynamic analysis based on image recognition, object detection, and location analysis (the above figure shows the dynamic analysis screen)

Orbital Insight’s geospatial analysis platform “Orbital Insight GO” utilizes AI and machine learning and can investigate factory operating conditions from satellite images, or estimate the economic. Orbital Insight’s geospatial analysis platform, Orbital Insight GO, utilizes AI and machine learning to investigate factory operations from satellite data and estimate the economic impact of stores based on the number of vehicles in parking lots detected from saterllite data and the number of customers visiting stores measured from GPS data.

Serika: Wow! I didn’t know you could do that!

Ensure the Traceability of Palm Oil and Prevente Deforestation!

Serika: I can see there are many more use cases for Orbital Insight GO, but what do you think will have the most significant impact?

Mike: One that speaks to the mission statement I mentioned earlier is understanding the supply chain. Unilever, a major consumer goods company, has chosen Orbital Insight GO to help them understand the farms from which they source the palm oil used to produce their products.

Oil Palm Seed

What is palm oil?

It is an oil extracted from the fruit of the oil palm. It is used in everyday products such as detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, and lipstick, and processed foods such as instant noodles and sweet bread.

Most companies knew where they purchased palm oil from, but could not trace it back to the oil mills where it was produced or to the farms where the oil palm, the raw material, was grown. With Orbital Insight GO, they know the first mile of their supply chain!

Supply chain analysis results ©︎ Orbital Insight

Serika: I have heard that some areas have been deforested as a result of expanding oil palm plantations to increase palm oil production. …… So Unilever is trying to achieve sustainable manufacturing by making sure that the palm oil used in the production of daily necessities and processed foods is not a burden on the environment.

You say that it is difficult to trace the supply chain, how does Orbital Insight GO keep track of it, given the difficulty of tracing the supply chain?

Mike: A key part of our solution is an AI algorithm that analyzes the location information and satellite images that can be obtained using GPS signals. First, we create a map by connecting the GPS location data, which is in the form of dots. Then, we overlay satellite images that detect the location of buildings, roads, and forests, so that we can see the supply chain and the state of deforestation.

Satellite images are analyzed using original algorithms for land cover classification©︎ Orbital Insight

Serika: I see. That would be more efficient since we wouldn’t have to install surveillance cameras and sensors!

Japan’s Business Scale is №2 in the World! First Overseas Office is in Tokyo

Serika: By the way, Mike, you mentioned that you are the general manager of the Tokyo office. Is there a growing interest in satellite data and geospatial information in Japan?

Mike: Yes, there is. I have been involved with Orbital Insight as an early member since 2013 when we established our head office.

I still remember when I received an email from a Japanese company in the summer of 2016 asking me to learn more about our business. When Kevin E. O’Brien, the current CEO, and I visited Tokyo that winter, we found that there was considerable interest in data analysis using satellite images and geospatial information.

I decided to move from San Francisco to Tokyo with my family. I took on the role of General Manager of the Asia Pacific region and General Manager of the Tokyo office. Tokyo was Orbital Insight’s first overseas office. Japan is our second largest operation after the U.S., where our head office is located.

Serika: Second! That’s a surprise. Why do you think there is such a growing interest in data utilization in Japan?

Mike: I think that the combination of the growing desire to innovate, digitize, and create new businesses, and the cultural affinity, including a strong interest in technology from the U.S., has led to its acceptance in Japan.

Serika: Indeed, innovation, digitization, and new business creation are all often keywords in Japan.

The Immediate Goal is “Daily Updates” of Satellite Images.

Serika: What are some of the technological challenges you see for meeting the increasing market needs in the future?

Orbital Insight GO shows satellite images from a day ago when you log in, and the time it takes for a satellite to capture an image and then download it on the ground is getting much shorter. However, the required speed depends on the customer’s use case, and our immediate goal is to update data daily.

Serika: If the optical communication service that WARPSPACE is promoting becomes widespread, taking and downloading satellite images of the world every day is not just a dream.


Mike:It’s as you say. We buy satellite data from satellite operators. So, when the satellite operators use WARPSPACE’s optical communications, we can get satellite imagery faster……, which means we are the beneficiaries of the optical communications.

To get satellite images of a particular area, we have to place an order (tasking) saying, “Please give us this image”. It would be attractive if we could order, for example, “Tokyo Station tomorrow” or “Tokyo Station two hours from now” on the Orbital Insight GO screen, and get an image immediately.

Serika: If the time it takes to download satellite images is shorter, the amount of data that can be captured by each satellite will increase, and the price of data will naturally decrease. If that happens, I think the field of data utilization will expand.

Finally, what are your hopes for the Japanese space industry and startup companies?

Mike: We would love to partner with satellite operators that can quickly provide us with high-resolution satellite images. If we can get satellite images of areas that are heavily customer trafficked, such as Tokyo Station, from more than one company, we will have more things to analyze.

Serika: If we can see previously unseen things, such as the palm oil supply chain, our lives may change. Thank you very much!

Our 4th guest in the series of conversations with Astronaut Serika was Mike Kim from Orbital Insight. From his talk, we learned how satellite data and geospatial information are being used for the sustainable production of everyday items and food products that we are familiar with in our daily lives. As the time between when a satellite takes an image and when it reaches the ground becomes shorter, the scope of satellite data utilization is likely to expand.



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We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.