Skybox to be acquired by Google for $500 million  June 11th, 2014 by Susan Smith

Who is Skybox and why does Google want it?

The move toward satellite imaging, which is what Skybox provides, is a strategic one for Google. The small startup company Skybox Imaging was started by co-founder and director of marketing and customer relations Ching-Yu Hu and three friends while grad students at Stanford in 2009. Ching-Yu-Hu envisioned that they could “index the earth the way Google indexes the Internet.” So I guess that’s where Google comes in: already there, in the way of indexing. And Skybox is already there in terms of providing the satellite. Last November the company launched its first mini-bar-sized satellite, SkySat-1 into orbit aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket. Plans are to launch eight more by the end of 2015.

Skybox even has its own rocket.

“We call this Earth Observation 2.0, where satellites are simply sensors and the magic is in harnessing scalable computing and unbounded analytics to find answers to the world’s most important geospatial problems regardless of data source,” says the “About Section” on their website. What is truly remarkable about Skybox is that they have built their own satellites and their own image processing algorithms, raised more than $91 million in funding and now has 120 employees. In comparison to a company like DigitalGlobe that contracts with the military for its satellites and imagery. They say they built everything themselves so they have the flexibility to address the needs of their customers.

But it has to be more than that. Unlike the satellite imaging giant DigitalGlobe, the primary contractor providing satellite imagery for the military, Skybox’s targeted customers are big public companies. Recently they helped in the search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

In April Skybox Imaging was named Inc. Magazine’s #1 Most Audacious Tech Company. This is quite phenomenal also given the fact that commercial imagery ventures do not have a high success rate.

“In our mind, we really see ourselves as an information company,” Hu says. “In the future, our customers won’t know or care about the satellites. They’ll just care about the images that make huge decisions.”

Skybox hired Space Systems/Loral to build the next 13 spacecraft and Orbital Sciences Corp. to launch six in late 2015 on a Minotaur-C rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Skybox plans to offer customers timely access to still imagery, full-motion video and data services. The company has signed agreements with Japan Space Imaging of Tokyo and Emirates Space Imaging (ESI) of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to distribute its products. Under the agreements, Japan Space Imaging and ESI affiliates European Space Imaging and Space Imaging Middle East will install Skybox’s compact ground stations, known as SkyNodes, with 2.4-meter antennas and associated equipment to task satellites, downlink, process and distribute imagery.

Skybox sees itself offering service-level agreements for data dependability. The data they offer is not “pristine” but can be delivered to the customers on demand. Most customers would like Skybox to do analysis for them rather than just imagery. Most of the needs centered around satellite imagery for these customers comes from not being able to get the desired information. Hopefully, with Skybox, they will be able to.

According to an article in The New York Times, initially, Skybox will help improve Google’s dominant mapping service. But over time, the five-year-old start-up and its ability to launch relatively cheap satellites could aid a bigger Google goal: expanding its Internet service offerings.

The tech titan is already exploring using other novel methods — including balloons and drones — to provide online access, especially to people in sparsely populated locations.

“Their satellites will help keep our maps accurate with up-to-date imagery,” a representative for Google said in a statement. “Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in.”

Google Maps becomes Google’s second 1 billion-download hit  by Brad Reed.  13 June 2014



When we saw that Gmail last month became the first Android app to reach 1 billion downloads, we just knew Google Maps couldn’t be that far behind. And sure enough,Android Police points out that Google Maps has recently crossed the 1 billion download threshold, making it the second Android app in history to reach this milestone. Of course, like Gmail, Google Maps comes preinstalled on most Android phones, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it reached 1 billion downloads at around the same time as Gmail. Nonetheless, it’s an extremely impressive milestone for both apps and a reminder of just how much Google’s apps and services have been conquering the world, even among people who don’t like using Android as their primary platform.

How WWI Bombs Shattered Bedrock and Changed the Geology of France


Every once in a while, we’re reminded of World War I’s awful legacy: Trenches that run likegashes through the French countryside, craters in farmland, the iron harvest. These scars are even deeper than we might imagine. Bombs actually shattered bedrock and created the bizarre, dimpled landscape of modern day Verdun.

World War I has gone down in history as our first modern war, when we became brutally efficient at killing people. As bombs rained down on the Western Front, thousands of craters opened up on the battlefields. Meteorites had created the occasional crater before, but large-scale bombing was a new phenomenon on earth, which two geographers have called “bombturbation.”

A post by David Bressan on his History of Geology blog pointed me toward the geographer’s2006 paper where they first discuss bombturbation. “The artillery fire changed how and which type of soil can form – so much that the authors suggest that the modern use of bombs and explosives is a significant erosion factor that it deserves a own term,” writes Bressan.

The geographers Joseph P. Hupy and Randall J. Schaetzl had visited Verdun in France, home to one of the World War I’s deadliest and most infamous battles. They marked off two plots of land, a quarter hectacre each, and measured depth and soil disturbance of every crater in those plots.

Artillery shells could blast craters up to 30 feet wide and many feet deep. Land mines were even more powerful, creating holes up to 160 feet deep. These explosives blasted through bedrock. Though curiously, artillery shells did more damage to the ground in WWI than WWII in the same area. That’s because early artillery shells were designed to explode on impact, but more advanced detonators during WWII allowed shells to explode in the air.

Because of Verdun’s high water table, some of these craters later filled up with water like small ponds. In dry craters, rotting matter and microbes have accumulated on the exposed limestone bedrock, making it more prone to weathering and erosion. The soil in these craters is thicker than in undisturbed areas. Verdun is an early example of bombturbation, but weapons have only gotten more powerful since then. Vietnam has suffered the worst of it. The U.S. dropped some 14 million tons of bombs on the country during 8 years of war. As destruction of enemy habitat became an explicit part of American strategy, “aerial bombardment inflicted damage to the Vietnamese landscape at a scale never before accomplished,” write Hupy and Schaetzl. We may not pause to think about the geological legacy of bombs in the thick of war, we have to live with it long after. [Scientific AmericanSoil Science]

Read more.

Why Americans Call Soccer ‘Soccer’


How different country refer to the game of soccer. The shades of pink are variations and literal translations of "football," blues are "soccer," and greens are other etymologies. ( reddripper/reddit )
How different country refer to the game of soccer. The shades of pink are variations and literal translations of “football,” blues are “soccer,” and greens are other etymologies. ( reddripper/reddit )

New Zealand’s largest newspaper is deeply conflicted. With the World Cup underway in Brazil, should The New Zealand Herald refer to the “global round-ball game” as “soccer” or “football”? The question has been put to readers, and the readers have spoken. It’s “football”—by a wide margin.

We in the U.S., of course, would disagree. And now we have a clearer understanding of why. In May, Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, published a paper debunking the notion that “soccer” is asemantically bizarre American invention. In fact, it’s a British import. And the Brits used it often—until, that is, it became too much of an Americanism for British English to bear.

The story begins, like many good stories do, in a pub. As early as the Middle Ages, Szymanski explains, the rough outlines of soccer—a game, a ball, feet—appear to have been present in England. But it wasn’t until the sport became popular among aristocratic boys at schools like Eton and Rugby in the nineteenth century that these young men tried to standardize play. On a Monday evening in October 1863, the leaders of a dozen clubs met at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to establish “a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game.” They did just that, forming the Football Association. The most divisive issue was whether to permit “hacking,” or kicking an opponent in the leg (the answer, ultimately, was ‘no’).  Continue reading here.


Parrot MiniDrones get US pricing, August release date

In case you missed it back at CES 2014, Parrot unveiled a new MiniDrone line to go along with its larger AR.Drone models such as the upcoming BeBop.

The Rolling Spider (pictured above) and Jumping Sumo (seen below) are the first two in the line and will be available by the end of August.

A mini-quadcopter with detachable wheels, the Rolling Spider is capable of some pretty cool acrobatics including 360-degree flips and rolling up walls and across ceilings. It has a built-in vertical camera for snapshots, but mostly it’s to help determine the speed of the Spider.

The Jumping Sumo has a front-mounted camera that can live-stream video to a smartphone or tablet as well as capture photos and video. The Jumping Sumo can also launch itself up to 3 feet (about 90cm) and its wheels can be set to wide or narrow positions for better speed and stability or navigating tighter spaces.  Read more here.

First Graduate-Level GIS Course in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Offered at the University of Denver This Summer

The University of Denver’s Department of Geography and the Environment and the college of professional and continuing studies, University College, will be the first to offer graduate-level students an opportunity to learn about UAVs as they relate to GIS. 

June 12, 2014 — DENVER— Starting June 9, the University of Denver will offer “UAV for GIS,” the first graduate-level course in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) as they relate to Geographic Information Systems (GIS). An emerging technology, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are used in GIS for mapping, data collection, and high quality imagery.

“You always wonder what ‘the next big thing’ is going to be—well, this is it,” said Steven Hick, GIS Director and faculty member at the University of Denver. “We haven’t had something so innovative staring us in the face like this since GPS was introduced in the late 90s. This is a game changer in how we do business and data collection.”

The course will introduce GIS students to the emerging world of using UAVs in the GIS workplace for data collection and research. In addition to learning about collecting data, students will also gain skills in basic aviation, safety, and mission planning. The course culminates in an actual demo flight, during which students will participate, outside of class, in a demonstration showing how a UAV can collect data for GIS purposes.

“There is so much good that can be done with these marvels of technology; everything from precision agriculture, which could help increase crop yields, structure inspections and of course GIS. I believe the advent of UAVs is as profound as the internet was in the early 90s,” said Joe Falconer, course instructor, Pilot-in-Command, and CEO of Aerial Data Systems, a data collection company specializing in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and training.

The online course “UAV for GIS” begins June 9 and runs for ten weeks with a follow-up course on Digital Image Processing planned for the fall quarter.  For more information on these courses or other programs at the University of Denver, please call 303-871-2291 or visit  Read more here.

How El Niño will change the world’s weather in 2014

Global temperatures sea surface levels on 5 June 2014. Photograph: /NOAA
Global temperatures sea surface levels on 5 June 2014. Photograph: /NOAA

The global El Niño weather phenomenon, whose impacts cause global famines, floods – and even wars – now has a 90% chance of striking this year, according to the latest forecast released to the Guardian.

El Niño begins as a giant pool of warm water swelling in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, that sets off a chain reaction of weather events around the world – some devastating and some beneficial.

India is expected to be the first to suffer, with weaker monsoon rains undermining the nation’s fragile food supply, followed by further scorching droughts in Australia and collapsing fisheries off South America. But some regions could benefit, in particular the US, where El Niño is seen as the “great wet hope” whose rains could break the searing drought in the west.

 What is El Niño

The knock-on effects can have impacts even more widely, from cutting global gold prices to making England’s World Cup footballers sweat a little more.

The latest El Niño prediction comes from theEuropean Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which is considered one the most reliable of the 15 or so prediction centres around the world. “It is very much odds-on for an event,” said Tim Stockdale, principal scientist at ECMWF, who said 90% of their scenarios now deliver an El Niño. “The amount of warm water in the Pacific is now significant, perhaps the biggest since the 1997-98 event.” That El Niño was the biggest in a century, producing the hottest year on record at the time and major global impacts, including a mass die-off of corals.  Read more here.


OGC seeks comment on charter for new netCDF Standards Working Group

Jun 11 2014 — A new netCDF Standards Working Group (SWG) is being chartered to further extend the existing netCDF standard with extension modules for additional data models, encodings, and conventions. Initiators of the new SWG seek comments from the public on the draft new charter. The comment period closes on 2014-07-11.

NetCDF has already been established as an adopted OGC standard, encompassing a core standard along with extensions for specific data models and encodings and for the Climate and Forecast (CF) metadata conventions. The additional extensions to be addressed by the new netCDF SWG include, but are not limited to, those currently under consideration by the currently existing CF-netCDF 1.0 SWG, which will be disbanded and replaced by this NetCDF SWG.

NetCDF (network Common Data Form) is a data model for multidimensional array-oriented scientific data, a freely distributed collection of access libraries implementing support for that data model, and a machine-independent storage format. Together, the interfaces, libraries, and format support the creation, access, and sharing of scientific data.

Having already established netCDF as an OGC standard for binary encoding has made it possible to incorporate standard delivery of data in binary form via several OGC protocols, including the OGC Web Coverage Service (WCS), Web Feature Service (WFS), and Sensor Observation Service (SOS) Interface Standards. Work is already underway on an extension to GML and OWS for delivery of data encoded in netCDF. Additional netCDF conventions extensions will improve the effectiveness and usability of netCDF datasets by a wider community. One example is the recently released OGC NetCDF Uncertainty Conventions Discussion Paper.

The OGC® is an international consortium of more than 475 companies, government agencies, research organizations, and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available geospatial standards. OGC standards support interoperable solutions that “geo-enable” the Web, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream IT. Visit the OGC website at


SpyMeSat Mobile App Now Offers High Resolution Satellite Imagery

GREENBELT, MD (June 10th, 2014) – Orbit Logic announced today that the iPhone version of their SpyMeSat mobile app will now offer in-app purchase of recent high resolution satellite imagery.  SpyMeSat users will be able to use their mobile device to preview a recent commercial satellite image of a specified location, select the desired image size, and purchase the image for download.  Once the images are downloaded, they can be printed, e-mailed, or displayed in social media.

“Now SpyMeSat users can download recent satellite imagery as easily as they can download a song or an app.” said Alex Herz, president of Orbit Logic. “This is the same high resolution commercial satellite imagery used by government intelligence agencies, but at a small fraction of the price.  SpyMeSat brings satellite imagery to a personal, accessible scale by removing cost and process barriers through technology.”

Prices start at $14.99 for a 1km square image.  Alex Herz went on to say that with this accessibility and pricing level he expects expanded use of satellite imagery by state and local governments and small businesses for real estate, land use, remote site monitoring, and other applications.

Orbit Logic has signed an agreement with DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colorado in order to provide SpyMeSat users with access to the most recent and highest resolution commercial satellite imagery available.  DigitalGlobe’s constellation of imaging satellites (including WorldView-1, WorldView-2, and GeoEye-1) collect imagery with higher resolution and more accuracy than any other commercial satellites in the world.  DigitalGlobe maintains a global, high resolution satellite imagery archive, which SpyMeSat users will now be able to tap into.

Orbit Logic ( specializes in software for mission planning, scheduling, and space situational awareness. Orbit Logic’s operationally proven software products – Collection Planning & Analysis Workstation, STK Scheduler, SpyMeSat Mobile App, Collection Feasibility Tool, and Sibyl Satellite Tasking Mobile App – create better plans faster with fewer resources, more insight, and less risk. Orbit Logic engineering services are available to configure, customize, and integrate Orbit Logic mobile, desktop, and web-based applications to provide turn-key operational solutions.

U.S. Department of Commerce Relaxes Resolution Restrictions DigitalGlobe Extends Lead in Image Quality

LONGMONT, CO — (Marketwired) — Jun 11, 2014 — DigitalGlobe, Inc. (NYSEDGI), the leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth observation and advanced geospatial solutions, today announced that it received notice from the U.S. Department of Commerce on its application to allow the company to sell its highest-quality and industry-leading commercial satellite imagery.

Effective immediately, DigitalGlobe will be permitted to offer customers the highest resolution imagery available from their current constellation. Additionally, the updated approvals will permit DigitalGlobe to sell imagery to all of its customers at up to 0.25m panchromatic and 1.0m multispectral ground sample distance (GSD) beginning six months after its next satellite WorldView-3 is operational. WorldView-3 is scheduled to launch, August 13 or 14, 2014 from Vandenberg Air Force base.

With the launch of WorldView-3, the DigitalGlobe constellation will set a new technological bar for commercial satellite imagery, offering customers the highest available resolution, revisit rate, capacity, and spectral diversity. The company currently operates a fleet of five high-resolution earth imaging satellites. Two of those satellites — GeoEye-1 and WorldView-2 — collect imagery sharper than 0.50m, and all customers will have access to that imagery at the highest native resolution. WorldView-3 will provide even higher resolution at 0.31m, and the GeoEye-2 satellite, which is substantially complete, will capture similarly sharp images when it is launched to replace a satellite currently in service or as an expansion to the constellation once warranted by market demand.

“We are very pleased and appreciative that the U.S. Department of Commerce under the leadership of Secretary Penny Pritzker, with support from the U.S. Departments of Defense and State and the Intelligence Community, has made this forward-leaning change to our nation’s policy that will fuel innovation, create new high-tech jobs, and advance the nation’s commanding lead in this strategically important industry,” said Jeffrey R. Tarr, DigitalGlobe CEO. “Our customers will immediately realize the benefits of this updated regulation, as for the first time, we will be able to make our very best imagery available to the commercial market. As a result of this policy update and the forthcoming addition of WorldView-3 to our constellation, DigitalGlobe will further differentiate itself from foreign competition and expand our addressable market.”

Additionally, DigitalGlobe announced today that it plans to shift the WorldView-1 satellite into a different orbit, in which it will image the earth in the afternoon local time each day. This shift will optimize the DigitalGlobe constellation to monitor changes on the earth at various times during the day. Customers will be able to image a particular area with multiple satellites in the morning and again with WorldView-1 in the afternoon thus providing consistent views of Earth over much of the day.

“As our constellation has grown, we have pioneered new capabilities for satellite imaging in every successive generation to deliver new and unique value to our customers in the growing and dynamic geospatial market. The combination of additional spectral bands, higher resolution products, morning and afternoon collection times, and increased collection capacity all enable DigitalGlobe to provide its customers with dramatically more information in every image collected,” said Walter Scott, DigitalGlobe’s founder and Chief Technology Officer.

DigitalGlobe supports customers’ critical decisions with the highest resolution commercial satellite imagery available anywhere. To see visual examples of how better resolution can enable better decision making for Civil Governments, Location Based Services and Energy, visit

---------- Feature IKONOS QuickBird WorldView-1 GeoEye-1  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Spectral  characteristics Pan + 4 MS Pan + 4 MS Pan Pan + 4 MS  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Panchromatic resolution  (nadir) 0.82 m 0.55 m 0.50 m 0.41 m  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Multispectral  resolution (nadir) 3.28 m 2.20 m N/A 1.64 m  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Accuracy specification  (nadir) 9 m CE90 23 m CE90 4 m CE90 3 m CE90  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Onboard storage 80 Gbits 128 Gbits 2199 Gbits 1000 Gbits  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Collection capacity 150,000 160,000 1,500,000 350,000  km2/day km2/day km2/day km2/day  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Launch timing 1999 2001 2007 2008  ----------------------------------------------------------------------------  ------------------------------------------------------------- Feature GeoEye-2  WorldView-2 WorldView-3 (subject to change)  ------------------------------------------------------------- Spectral Pan + 8 MS +  characteristics Pan + 8 MS 8 SWIR Pan + 4 MS  ------------------------------------------------------------- Panchromatic resolution  (nadir) 0.46 m 0.31 m 0.31 m  ------------------------------------------------------------- Multispectral  resolution (nadir) 1.84 m 1.24 m 1.24 m  ------------------------------------------------------------- Accuracy specification  (nadir) 3.5 m CE90 3.5 m CE90 3.5 m CE90  ------------------------------------------------------------- Onboard storage 2199 Gbits 2199 Gbits 3000 Gbits  ------------------------------------------------------------- Collection capacity 1,200,000 680,000 680,000  km2/day km2/day km2/day  ------------------------------------------------------------- Launch timing 2009 2014 TBD