BlackSky Blog

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by | Jul 19, 2023

BlackSky Executive Patrick O’Neil on How AI Powers our Earth Observation

Authored by BlackSky Chief Innovation Officer Patrick O’Neil

We designed this system to monitor the entire globe and generate a lot of data. From that data, we can understand patterns of activity, spot anomalies, count objects, see manufacturing rates, and track objects across the supply chain. We also built our system for extremely low latency. Everywhere in the chain, from tasking to downlinking, processing and exploiting the imagery, we look for ways to make it as fast as possible. Because of those two reasons, we knew that we needed an AI-powered system.

Tasking is automated. Our AI reads the world’s news, including hyper-local foreign language news sources all the way from the Associated Press and BBC. It identifies emerging events around the world and automatically tasks our satellites to take an image. This is really helpful for natural disasters or anything that needs a quick response.

During the fall of Afghanistan when a city or an air base would be captured, the system would task our satellites to take an image. It collected hundreds of images acting on hundreds of tips from open-source reporting.

Going forward, we are doubling down on the success that we’ve had to date in processing our own imagery with our own AI. Now, we’re processing other forms of imagery, including synthetic aperture radar. Customers can get updated looks at facilities they care about. We are moving toward that multisensor, multidata-source approach to keeping track of activities happening around the supply chain, national security and other things that have major impacts on the world.

We want our customers to be the first to know about anything that’s going on around the world. To do that, you need a fully automated system that has that kind of cognition built in to adapt to a dynamic world.


This excerpt originally appeared in “5 Executives on How AI Powers Their Earth Observations” in the March 2023 issue of Aerospace America.