Satellite Applications Catapult partners with FDL Europe to support the development of new AI solutions to worldwide challenges using satellite data



The Satellite Applications Catapult is delighted to announce its partnership with Frontier Development Lab (FDL) Europe, an AI research accelerator solving worldwide challenges using satellite data.

FDL Europe is a partnership between the Satellite Applications Catapult, Oxford University, NVIDIA and ESA Phi Lab. It is the European analogue of the hugely successful NASA FDL in Silicon Valley, which was established in 2015. FDL Europe brings together leading AI researchers and domain experts from space agencies, industry and academia, aiming to solve a real-world problem using AI and space data.

In this, its inaugural year, FDL Europe set an Earth Observation challenge – “Mission Control for Planet Earth”. The participating teams have selected two of today’s biggest problems – firstly, how to assess the damage to communities from natural disasters using satellite imagery and secondly how to map informal settlements from space. Both have delivered significant advancements, with the real possibility of future exploitation.

Measuring disaster damage has recently been a huge focus following the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami. The lack of reliable information available for days and weeks after the disaster significantly hampered recovery efforts.

The build-up of informal settlements is a truly global problem, the UN predicts 1.8 billion people will be living in informal settlements by 2025, and international aid agencies need to be able to map and understand the size and growth of these areas to effectively help their inhabitants and support local governments to deploy long-term solutions. 

The Satellite Applications Catapult will now work with the participants to ensure the successful exploitation of these projects by identifying areas where the solutions can be tested in the real world.  The teams will then work with government and non-governmental agencies, local authorities, technology companies and earth observation specialists to allow the solutions to be developed and used for the good of mankind.  The teams have already met with UNICEF Innovation Labs as they build towards this goal.

This activity is a prime example of how the Catapult works to drive innovation in the satellite applications sector.  It combines the key elements of raising awareness of the role of AI in the satellite sector, growing a relevant skills base, and providing new tools and routes to funding.

The Catapult’s support of FDL Europe, which will continue in 2019, will also ultimately help draw skilled AI professionals into the space sector. With AI dominated by the tech giants, FDL Europe provides a great opportunity to interest AI professionals in the space industry through the combination of its unique competition format, and the interest created by the inclusion of space data.

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