It seems like everything is tracked and measured these days. Order a pizza, and you get a notification when it’s put in the oven. Curious about how many times an NBA player (any player) dribbles per possession? That information is neatly presented on the league’s official site. Even dreams are being produced, collected, and analyzed as part of our “quantified self” data.
One startup is working on tracking something more ambitious: the planet. Instead of measuring basic heart rate or blood pressure, Descartes Labs is applying machine learning to both public and private satellite imagery to determine rates of deforestation, forecast food supplies, identify where new wind farms are being constructed, and more.
The company, which spun out of Los Alamos National Lab, has access to a massive archive of satellite imagery sourced from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other “commercial constellations.” The archive goes back decades and grows larger every day–currently, it houses five petabytes of data (that’s 5 million gigabytes).
“It’s really an inherently good data set. It’s hard to imagine that the data we’re generating, like deforestation data, can be used for some sort of nefarious purpose, right? At some point, everybody ought to know this data, because it’s just data about the world we live in,” CEO and cofounder Mark Johnson tells Fast Company.