Q&A with Chris Bollinger, VP, Public Sector
Who are the main customers and industries Orbital Insight serves?
The mission of Orbital Insight is to increase transparency of what’s happening on and to the Earth. We support a variety of customers. At the highest level, it’s about providing actionable analytic insights generated from geospatial data to decision-makers, key stakeholders, and policymakers. Our core users are analysts at commercial companies, NGOs, and federal defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. We support our commercial clients by providing increased transparency into global energy supply, U.S. retail market demand, U.S. housing supply, and the dynamics within integrated global supply chains.
What distinguishes Orbital Insight from other geospatial analytics companies?
The key issue is the depth and breadth of the technical capabilities we’ve developed to date. It starts with the data. We have strategic supplier relationships with all the major geospatial data firms in the world—Maxar, Airbus, Planet, e-Geos, and so on—and this allows us to provide the full spectrum of geospatial data. We leverage space, aerial, terrestrial, and maritime-based sensors to give the best analytic signal to our clients. We also have a broad portfolio of AI and machine learning algorithms we can then apply against that data in our platform, which supports analysis at near-global scale. As an In-Q-Tel and Defense Innovation Unit portfolio company, we operate both in the commercial unclassified realm as well as in the classified domain to meet the needs of defense and intelligence users.
What are some innovative ways your company is applying advanced analytics in the public sector?
At the highest level, we empower human geospatial analysts to know where to look and when. Our technology takes multi-source data from all commercial providers as well as U.S. government-owned and -operated sensors and automates the identification of anomalies and change detection. All of this supports the generation of indications and warnings by government analysts. We also help automate the generation, curation, and maintenance of foundation data.
Another innovative thing we do is automated tipping and cueing. We take lower cost, higher revisit, lower resolution commercial sensors and, with our algorithms, automate anomaly and change detection. That creates a cue of tips the government can take into command-and-control and tasking architectures to optimize the collection through U.S. government sensors or higher cost, higher resolution commercial sensors.
What are the primary challenges you face?
There’s so much data out there—the amount and different types, especially for geospatial, is increasing exponentially every day. The first thing we do is validate whether the data can add more analytical insight to the signal we’re providing to our clients. A strong vetting and validation process up front is essential to determine if there is value to be gleaned from the data.
Depending on the mission, the time it takes to get data from collection down into some architecture where we can order, ingest, and process it can also be a challenge. That speed can go from hours to days or weeks. We have to take all of that into account in terms of bringing data to bear and whatever the timely window is to provide these insights to our analysts and consumers.
How are next-generation technologies like AI and the cloud shaping Orbital Insight’s offerings?
Advances in AI, machine learning, and deep learning are a big part of our computer vision algorithms because a bulk of the data we consume is imagery based. Distributed computing environments like AWS (C2S for the U.S. government), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure allow us to apply this rapidly at scale. Beyond AI, other sources of geospatial data, like mobile geolocation information, provide enormous opportunities to push the boundaries of cloud storage and distributed computing. Fortunately, we’re now able to ingest, interpret, and analyze even larger volumes of multiple datasets—including satellite imagery and geolocation data—to derive meaningful signals for our customers.
What excites you most about the future of GEOINT?
As a former Marine officer, I’ve always been fascinated by the geospatial world. Thanks to technological advances, we’re able to help our clients have timely and actionable understanding about what is happening on and to the Earth. The full spectrum of policy- and decision-makers and operational commanders are able to have much more visibility in real time about what is happening around the world. It’s also exciting to increase transparency in areas of the world where there hasn’t been much access. For example, helping underserved populations become more resilient to natural disasters or helping NGOs deploy resources in new ways.
What has USGIF Membership meant to Orbital Insight?
USGIF is the community leader in representing the whole ecosystem of government, industry, and academia. What we’re doing has never been done before. Governments and our clients, both commercial and public sector, haven’t applied AI and machine learning to these types of things at enterprise scale, so we’re learning together as we go.
Being involved with USGIF allows us to be a part of the conversation and bring our subject matter expertise in how this technology works, and, more importantly, how it currently doesn’t work. We’re involved in those discussions about the future so we can apply AI in ethical ways to make the world a better place.
Featured image: This photo of a port in Macau, China, shows plane detection. (Image credit: DigitalGlobe/Orbital Insight)