Planet Labs – Satellite Imagery to Better Humanity
Planet Labs utilizes cutting-edge satellites to take daily pictures of Earth, enabling not just business but positive social change.
Founded in 2010 by a team of ex-NASA scientists, Planet Labs has a simple mission: to image the entire Earth every day. Driven by a deep humanitarian ambition, the company seeks to create a “transparent plant”, providing universal access to images and sensory data. By utilizing a fleet of small, shoebox-sized satellites weighing only 11 lbs. and affectionately called “Doves”, Planet Labs is able to compile daily imagery of most of the Earth’s surface, at a dramatically faster rate than its competitors and a higher resolution than alternatives like the government-run Landsat program. The best part? They want to give it all away.
Plant Labs prides itself on having ethics as its foundation. It seeks to provide images and data to the widest audience possible, while remaining committed to the peaceful and responsible use of outer space for the global community as a whole. Given its utilitarian goals, Planet Labs’ long-term business model is really about leveraging a subset of customers that require real-time analytics to pay the bills, enable growth in the technical capabilities of the company and, after a grace period, allow the company to give out its data to the world for free. At this early stage the free offering has been limited to California imagery, but the plan is to, over time, increase the free platform to a global scope.
Long term, Planet Labs will provide its paying customers with a window of exclusivity for the data/photos collected from the satellites. The exclusivity period may be only a few weeks, but it offers large-scale patrons like multinational corporations and governments the ability to track on the ground changes (be it ships in a harbor, agricultural yields, far-flung drilling platforms or enemy combatants passing through an area) in real-time. Plant Labs’ ability to to provide crucial data that can be easily accessed and analyzed through the company’s online web toolkit and API has major benefits to its users that might not be able to/want to invest in their own analysis capabilities.
After that exclusivity window is up, the images become licensed under Creative Commons and therefore free to the world through the company’s web portal. The hope is that individuals and groups will use the images to analyze and tackle some of the world’s greatest problems. In particular, Planet Labs is looking to help empower NGOs to take on the challenges of food security, disaster response, environmental monitoring and climate resilience by enabling them to more consistently track on the ground situations (given that images are updated daily), even in areas that can be particularly hard/not economically feasible to get on-site eyes on. The company has already compiled over 6 years of global imagery, covering 6 billion kilometers of land.
Planet Lab’s is able to support its business and humanitarian missions by controlling the entire vertical product and leveraging existing relationships. The company’s engineers design the Dove satellites that are placed into orbit and work to produce the various analytical tools that businesses, NGO’s and average users can utilize to maximize the data they are given. There is an API that developers can use to pull web tiles directly into 3rd party apps and the platform is open to the tech community to allow for customization and improvement. The goal is simple: get the data into people’s hands, give them a toolkit and let them decide the best way to use it.
Planet Labs is also excellent at utilizing existing relationships to further their goals. They maintain a close relationship with NASA and have actually used Space-X, the International Space Station and its resupply missions to transport their satellites into orbit.
With over $183.1M in venture funding raised and a long list of paying customers, Plant Labs is moving forward at an electric pace. It now operates the largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites ever deployed and has built an incredible toolkit that empowers everybody from major corporations to NGOs to analyze and utilize data. Its free platform is growing and their mission of opening up space to all-comers is changing how the industry views not only its technology, but also its duty to mankind as a whole.
Student comments on Planet Labs – Satellite Imagery to Better Humanity
CP – great post and very interesting company. What controls, if any, does Planet Labs place on its real-time data for paying customers? Is there a concern that this data could be used for nefarious purposes? Or are companies/countries already able to monitor the globe, with or without Planet Labs?
Fascinating company, really unique technology, and thoughtful post. I worry, though, if it’s too early to call this one – Planet Labs has raised a lot of money at sky-high valuations, but this is a capital intensive business in an increasingly competitive and crowded space – including Google’s SkyBox, which is larger and better funded. They have had a number of launch failures, which for me calls their model into question, and their business model is not yet proven. I’m still in ‘wait and watch’ on this one.