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  • You kinda go outside and notice a very different world

  • around you these days.

  • A place that's much quieter and pretty weird.

  • In this episode I wanted to explore the idea

  • of what this lack of activity looks like

  • on a planetary scale and how the world has changed

  • since the virus spread across it.

  • And so we are gonna talk to Will Marshall

  • who's the CEO of Planet Labs.

  • It's a company that has hundreds

  • of imaging satellites surrounding the planet.

  • We're also gonna talk to an Open Source Image Analyst

  • named Allison Puccioni to get her take

  • on what these images teach us about what's happening.

  • And with that, let's go talk to Will.

  • Tell me a little bit about who you are

  • just for people who don't know Planet

  • and what you guys do.

  • Sure.

  • Planet does Earth imaging satellites

  • and analytics on that imagery.

  • We have about 150 satellites in orbit.

  • One set that images the entire landmass once per day.

  • So, really frequent imagery, as well as 15 satellites

  • that delegated to higher resolution that can zoom

  • in on any particular target of interest that we have.

  • As the virus spread across the globe and everybody went

  • on lockdown, you guys pretty quickly started

  • to post some of these images

  • of what the world looks like when it goes quiet.

  • What jumped out at you as things slowed down?

  • Well, the very first set of images,

  • we were asked to take some imagery in Wuhan

  • and just to see how dramatic the change was.

  • From cars on the roads and on the bridges,

  • to suddenly just gone.

  • Then as we look around the rest of the world

  • from Disney to Mecca, people were just gone.

  • You were talking about people asking for images.

  • I mean, who has come to you in this type of crisis

  • and what are they looking for?

  • Yeah, well the first folks that were asking

  • for the data were the news media

  • who were just trying to understand,

  • especially when they couldn't

  • send journalists there anymore, what's going on?

  • But then it was quickly followed

  • by governments who were interested in whether

  • or not there was anything that could be done

  • for emergency response.

  • So, for example, the US government reached out

  • and asked if we could help monitor some cities

  • across the US for their relief operations.

  • And, you guys, I think you were deemed

  • an essential business during all of this.

  • As I understand it, I mean you've been able

  • to keep manufacturing, but then, more broadly,

  • it looks like some of the rocket factories have had

  • to slow down a little bit.

  • I mean, what has been the knock-on effect just

  • to the space industry in general,

  • whether it's its launches or satellites?

  • I would say that space is pretty resilient

  • for a couple of reasons.

  • Firstly, it's built very resiliently.

  • I mean it's a very expensive business and so on,

  • people are very careful with those triple redundant systems

  • and backups and supply chain management.

  • And so, our company like many other space companies

  • are pretty robust to weather a storm.

  • So, for example, we operate all of our satellites remotely.

  • We have remote mission control systems

  • that our folks can do from home.

  • All of that stuff is still working.

  • The only thing that we have to do

  • in person is the manufacturing.

  • We've got special permission

  • so we can continue to do that.

  • And then, I think a second part of it is

  • that the space sector is very connected

  • with government needs,

  • whether that's in the communication satellites

  • or in earth observation or what have you.

  • And governments in these sorts of times tend to spend more,

  • not less, both to stimulate the economy

  • and because they're very necessary for emergency response.

  • I know that you think pretty broadly

  • about humanity in general.

  • You know, what has this experience been like?

  • What, I don't know, what's struck you the most

  • over the past couple of weeks?

  • Well, look, this is an extraordinary time.

  • It's almost like a real-time test

  • of the competence of government.

  • And that's very interesting to see how it evolves

  • where countries like South Korea

  • get on with testing very quickly and lock down early.

  • They're going to do better than the countries

  • that fail to do those things.

  • And, that's not an experiment you want to run

  • at the expense of human lives, but we are seeing it.

  • But then there are some silver lining

  • and I think that it's important in any disaster

  • to look for those opportunities.

  • It's like humanity is testing its reflex

  • of emergency response muscle.

  • And a bit of strength in that is a good idea

  • because we're going to see more emergencies come up.

  • Because of climate change,

  • we're going to see many more big scale disasters happen

  • whether floods or hurricanes or fires.

  • And we're going to need to be able to respond to them.

  • This is a test of how humans can change their behavior,

  • like stopping flying, like doing much more virtual meetings,

  • like potentiality consuming less.

  • I do hope that through this,

  • humanity will be a little more focused on the environment.

  • And our imagery is, of course, extremely important for that.

  • You're an open source image analyst.

  • Can you tell us what that means, and what you do?

  • So, there are a number of different satellites

  • in space that any one of us can get access to.

  • You can call up somebody with a credit card and say,

  • "Hey, I want an image of this,"

  • and I look at those pictures,

  • and I try to find interesting patterns of life.

  • I've always been on the more security end of that.

  • Whether that means looking for naval weapons in China,

  • or low intensity conflict in Africa,

  • or even refugee displacement.

  • These images used to be kind of rare

  • and precious and prized,

  • and mostly government. They were totally

  • classified, yeah.

  • These things weren't available at this quantity

  • until honestly in the last five years.

  • But now you have all sorts of countries

  • that are building their own satellite industry.

  • And we are able to benefit from this emergence

  • of transparency like we've never been able to do before.

  • And so, when something like,

  • when there's this big global story,

  • is there anything that's popped out to you

  • during the last couple of weeks?

  • Yeah, there have been, I think a couple of the images

  • over Iran that showed what I think the Washington Post

  • called burial pits, of a number of people being buried.

  • But it is over a cemetery,

  • and they are not really mass graves

  • and they're not really burial pits.

  • What we're seeing is basically a country

  • that had people die in February from a pandemic,

  • and they hastily buried them,

  • but they buried them individually

  • and they had individually marked graves.

  • It sounds like part of what you're saying is

  • either some part of the media

  • was either sensationalizing this,

  • or just didn't fully understand the context

  • of what they were seeing,

  • or like the right way to talk about this?

  • I would just say tread carefully,

  • because we're looking at a catastrophe.

  • We're looking at a pandemic,

  • and these are people who don't

  • have a disregard for their dead.

  • They are there on the worst days of their lives.

  • In this particular case, is this somewhere

  • that's looked at on a daily basis?

  • So, when we need the resolution or the clarity, I guess,

  • to see graves being dug,

  • we need a high-resolution satellite.

  • There used to be literally five high resolution satellites

  • in the early 2010s, and now I've lost count.

  • I think there are 36, 37.

  • So at any given point in the earth's surface,

  • we used to be able to see twice a year,

  • and now we can probably see roughly twice a week

  • or maybe five or six times a month.

  • And showing sort of what the world looks like

  • when it comes to a standstill in all these places.

  • Did anything jump out at you?

  • Just 'cause you have such a keen eye for this stuff?

  • Yeah.

  • I'm actually working with a number of organizations

  • who are trying to do a COVID response

  • using satellite imagery.

  • The analytics teams at places like Planet,

  • they are doing metrics.

  • Are people populating certain areas?

  • Really interesting details

  • that can augment municipal information that we already have.

  • And then, you can actually do things

  • that allow people to learn

  • whether people are sheltering in place or not.

  • One is cell data records, or tracking cell phone data,

  • which has been a very effective tool in showing

  • how people are traveling from their home.

  • In certain countries, the cell phone records are tracking

  • to hospitals, versus grocery stores.

  • So, if you see that in one county,

  • people are still going to the grocery store

  • more than the hospital, then maybe that means

  • there hasn't been a big outbreak there.

  • Yeah.

  • And yet, we have to ask ourselves the ethical question,

  • is this okay right now?

  • If we can track people and potentially

  • put shelter in place orders in certain regions

  • that could have the potential to save lives,

  • is that more important than someone's autonomy or secrecy?

  • We're in this interesting moment

  • when there's a lot more truth about the world

  • that can be gleaned through data.

  • I mean, just as someone who's watched this virus play out,

  • what have you--

  • Well, I mean you bring up a really interesting point.

  • When the Washington Post, for instance,

  • among a lot of other news organizations

  • published the satellite imagery over the cemetery in Iran,

  • there was a very strong slant on

  • Iran has been obfuscating the actual numbers

  • of people who had perished from coronavirus.

  • And this satellite industry shows

  • that there's a fair amount more people

  • that have perished from coronavirus.

  • Satellite Imagery does hold people's leaders, in fact,

  • feet to the fire, because it's possible now

  • for civilians, and for academic institutions to check.

  • So, it would, at the very least,

  • force people to be more transparent

  • about what's actually going on in their country.

You kinda go outside and notice a very different world

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What Earth Looks Like When Everything Stops

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/05/02
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