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AWS, Swarm See New Real-World Use Cases for Accessible Satellite Data

By Rachel Jewett | July 27, 2021

      A screenshot of the panel Satellite Solutions to Real World Problems. Photo: Via Satellite

      The satellite industry is moving into new use cases beyond traditional use cases around communication, intelligence, and navigation, as the industry grows and hundreds more satellites are launched to space each year. This expansion of the industry is fueling new use cases for satellite technology, Clint Crosier, director of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Aerospace and Satellite Solutions group, said during a SATELLITE 2021 Future Space Digital Forum session on Monday, July 26. 

      AWS is working to make data from space more accessible, to enable these use cases, through its cloud technology. 

      “What we’re seeing is this combination of space and cloud. This ‘space-cloud nexus’ is kind of a new industry within the industry,” he said. “When you bring those two things together, it’s a powerful combination that is really changing the way we live here on Earth.” 

      Swarm, a remote satellite Internet of Things (IoT) provider is an AWS customer. CEO Sara Spangelo spoke about the new use cases that her company’s technology is enabling. Swarm pitches itself as a much cheaper option that legacy IoT solutions, and Spangelo said it opens up IoT connectivity for companies that have only had cell connectivity, or even no connectivity beyond the reach of cell towers. 

      One Swarm use case is SweetSense, a water and air quality monitoring company that operates in Africa and is expanding to California. SweetSense is a former Iridium customer that switched to Swarm. 

      “That is an amazing use case monitoring people’s water supplies, actually saving lives. There’s not a lot of startups that can say they actively do that on a daily basis. [SweetSense saves lives] by monitoring water quality and preventing drought in California,” Spangelo said.  

      Spangelo said other use cases involve cold chain vaccine distribution, remote worker monitoring, and ocean monitoring through water buoys. “There are hundreds of others and I feel like we learn about new ones every week. It’s a really fun space to be in, enabling all these technologies and applications,” she said. 

      Elodie Viau, director of Communications and Integrated Applications for the European Space Agency (ESA), talked about how ESA is working on a climate change initiative to enable scientists to understand climate processes. This initiative also works with companies to bring scientists sensor solutions that can be used in the field to track things like crop growth and water use. 

      Viau said ESA is taking an integrated approach to solve real-world problems, particularly those in line with the United Nations sustainable development goals, working with other space agencies, and the public and private sector. 

      Working with space data can be intimidating for non-space companies, as space data has typically been reserved for national security operations, Crosier said. AWS is working to make space data as accessible as mobile phone data. 

      “The more we can make accessing satellite data just like accessing other kinds of data, the more value that will be able to proliferate,” Crosier said. “It’s about providing data and making data available. Let’s make it as easy as possible so that practitioners of using that data have as much access as they need.” 

      Bringing non-space companies into the fold of space data can be challenging, and Spangelo addressed how Swarm acquires customers that have never used satellite data before, or have worked with resellers for legacy providers. Spangelo said Swarm has had success finding IoT-focused groups. She mentioned an Auckland, New Zealand IoT group of people looking to buy low-cost IoT solutions. After giving them a presentation, Swarm received around 20 new customers. 

      “Our team is getting creative on the marketing and sales front, in order to get in front of those types of customers,” Spangelo said. “I think it’s really word of mouth. Everyone that comes inbound says ‘Hey my friend told me about you and said it’s awesome. I need to switch off my legacy satellite solution or expand my business beyond cellular, and you guys are the only real ones in town that I can buy today.”