MapBox is offering its clients a six-hour turnaround for those needing near real-time satellite imagery. “This is about making it easy for people to take real-time imagery and get it on the Web or in their app in minutes - using our open source tools,” said Chris Herwig, who leads the Satellite team at MapBox. Read more of Editor in Chief Joe Francica’s interview with Herwig.
Directions Magazine (DM): Is MapBox is offering this as a premium service?
Chris Herwig (CH): Yes. There has been so much interest in just having good-looking, really fast imagery since the launch of our Cloudless Atlas. Our angle is simple: not only do we want to process this real-time imagery and make it look really good, but we want to make it easy for people to integrate it into their sites. This is the big win of MapBox - it's a cloud service that can scale and is easy to integrate.
DM: What would MapBox charge clients who want near real-time imagery?
CH: We are still working on the best way to package this to make it as easy to consume for a mass market - right now all the energy is focused on getting data from our partners as quickly as possible. Once we have the tech really, really fast, we will look at pricing.
DM: Is this is a subscription service as part of MapBox Satellite Live?
CH: Anyone with a MapBox account will be able to buy the real-time imagery. It will be like having an account on iTunes - once you have that you can buy anything you want.
DM: How would a customer issue a request for the six-hour turnaround of imagery?
CH: Right now we are talking to both Skybox and DigitalGlobe. DigitalGlobe's FirstLook gives subscribers Web-based access to pre- and post-event imagery of natural and man-made disasters, political unrest, and human interest events.
So on one hand, this is nothing new, right? Right now, anyone can technically purchase commercial satellite imagery, but the process isn't so straightforward, and the end product is not easy to use. As someone who deals with processing imagery every day, I can tell you, it takes a lot of work to get from sensor data to actionable information, like you guys said in your podcast about the difference between data and information.
What we want to do here is make this imagery incredibly easy for anyone to use - and make it really fast. This is where the traditional players fall short.
We're leveraging Amazon Web Services to deliver this incredible turnaround time from vendor delivery to usable Web map.
When new images are added to the vendor-specific imagery endpoints, our processing pipeline kicks in, downloading the source pixels, performing sensor-specific imagery processing algorithms, reprojecting the image into Web Mercator, and ultimately cutting the image into MBTiles, our format for delivering really fast maps online. This process is quick and seamless, and the end result is a map layer that users will be able to preview and purchase directly through their MapBox.com account.
We're seriously lowering the barrier to entry for turning satellite data into actionable information and intelligence. The potential use cases for this kind of rapid imagery are pretty incredible. It'll be very easy for journalists to include the latest images available in their stories about events. Staffers briefing decision makers will be able to access the latest imagery, without needing any GIS background or software. Just login, find your layer, and make your map.
Like all of our map layers, these near real-time imagery layers are easily composited on top of, or below, our global satellite layer, MapBox Satellite, and global street-level basemap, MapBox Streets, all through the main MapBox.com UI. No GIS skills required.
Like you guys said in your podcast, how are satellite companies going to realize their potential market if they can't ship to it? We have the infrastructure and publishing tools to ship it, and we're going to.
DM: I understand that DigitalGlobe is offering quarterly updates to its image library. Is this service standard within MapBox Satellite?
CH: We are constantly updating our imagery. DG is just part of our larger Satellite play.