After working among the stars and within the worldwide landscape, a DC startup is hoping to use AI mapping to help mitigate the risks of climate change.
Impact Observatory (IO) uses deep learning and AI to generate maps of anywhere in the world. The company just raised $5.98 million, which includes an investment from Esri affiliate Esri International. With the funds, the company will build out its go-to-market strategy and continue research and development for additional monitoring capabilities.
Cofounder and CEO Steve Brumby described IO as an “AI plus space” company using AI to turn satellite images into maps. The maps show details such as the locations of forests, grasslands, agriculture and developments as well as how the area changed over time. The goal, Brumby said, is to make these maps available to leaders in government, industry and finance so they can make better climate-based decisions.
The 20-person, cloud-native company is headquartered in DC and boasts a hybrid workforce. Brumby and cofounder Sam Hyde created the company in 2020 after they were both recruited to work at the National Geographic Society in downtown DC. Brumby is originally a space scientist who worked for the US space program.
“We saw an opportunity to take the technology that we developed over a long time and apply it to help governments and industry understand the threats and changes that are happening due to environmental change and sustainability risk — and basically all the facets of the planetary crisis,” Brumby told Technical.ly.
With the help of deep learning, IO uses publicly available imagery from the European Copernicus satellites and the Sentinel satellites. Using millions of these images, IO develops maps in under a week, which Brumby said means that it can process and apply deep learning faster than satellites can collect data. All of this is completed in the cloud, working with Microsoft cloud and AWS cloud.
The maps are released by Esri, Microsoft, Amazon and the UN; IO also has a store to buy custom maps of anywhere in the world. IO used the Microsoft Planetary Computer’s technology to build the first fully automated, high-resolution map of the globe available in near-real-time.
So far, IO has worked with tourism operators in or nearby the frontline communities of climate change impacts. With the IO maps, officials can better understand how local development is a threat to conservation, and use that information to make zoning decisions. US government officials are also using the technology to develop plans for wildfires and surface water changes.
He also hopes it will prevent greenwashing by holding organizations and lawmakers accountable for their impacts and the work they’re doing.
“[We want to bring verifiable trust] to all sorts of environmental monitoring so that you can help people who are forward-leaning, who are trying to do the right thing, help them make better plans and then show all their stakeholders that they are provably green,” Brumby said.
Brumby sees AI as crucial to understanding the world and mitigating the impacts of climate change. He believes the information needed to answer the most important questions about the environment must be expansive and developed in real-time.
“There is so much data that there is nowhere near enough humans to interpret all the data,”‘Brumby said. “So we believe that AI has a critical role to play in assisting human decision-makers to make better decisions faster.”
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