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Aspia Space CEO Talks Pairing Satellite Imagery and AI to Impact Agriculture

By Mark Holmes | November 16, 2023

Photo: Shutterstock

Not a day goes by without more alarming data about the changing climate and the impact it could have for generations to come. A number of space-based companies aim to be front and center in arming stakeholders with data to help navigate the difficult times ahead.

One such company is Aspia Space, founded in the U.K. in 2021. Aspia Space looks to be the leading downstream analytics company for Earth Observation (EO) and to enable more sustainable and efficient farming going practices. Jim Geach, co-founder of Aspia Space talks with Via Satellite about how the company uses satellite imagery and AI to develop custom solutions for agriculture.

VIA SATELLITE: What is the vision behind Aspia Space? What is unique about the company?

Geach: Our background is observational astrophysics, which in some ways is the ultimate remote sensing challenge. This experience in pushing data to its absolute limits to derive physically meaningful insights inspired what we are trying to achieve at Aspia Space: we are now using our skills that include the state-of-the-art in AI techniques, to derive value from Earth Observation (EO) data.

Our vision is to become the leading downstream analytics company for EO, delivering data products that inform on-the-ground decision-making in a way no one else can. What makes us unique is our combination of skills. We are not just another AI startup. We use AI as a tool, but our approach is deeply rooted in scientific rigor derived from our academic background. Our co-founding team not only includes an academic pedigree, but deep expertise in scalable computing and commercial development.

Aspia Space co-founder Jim Geach

VIA SATELLITE: What is the 12-24 month technology roadmap for the company? Where do you hope to position the company in that timeframe?

Geach: Aside from developing a range of new products derived from our ClearSky technology, particularly focused on sustainable and productive agriculture, we are really excited by our new major development which is a ‘foundation model’ for EO. Leveraging our ClearSky data moat and bringing to bear some of the latest advances in pre-trained transformer models, we are creating a new algorithm that will transform the potential for EO data – for example by allowing us not only to see what is happening right now, but also days, weeks and even months into the future. Being able to provide our customers with data intelligence for events that are likely to happen in the future will allow them to react now to mitigate impacts on their bottom line.

We believe this will be a game-changer in terms of what can be achieved with satellite imagery. Over the next 12-24 months we will be rolling out our first products based on this new technology, during which time we aim to position ourselves as the leading company combining AI and space data providing downstream analytics for a wide range of sectors, from agriculture to insurance to financial services.

VIA SATELLITE: Tell us about the significance of the deal with Origin Digital? What do you see as the global prospects for the company’s ClearSky service?

Geach: The Origin Digital relationship offers us a direct route to landowners and farmers. It allows us to deliver our solution at scale, to an international audience, which as a relatively young company is incredibly valuable. Origin Digital’s ambitions align very closely with ours and while our primary focus has been on the U.K. and Ireland, we believe that building on the success of ClearSky locally, we can leverage the international reach of Origin Digital to grow market share for both companies.

VIA SATELLITE: Who do you see as the main customers for Aspia Space’s services and solutions?

Geach: Currently our focus is on growing our position as a leader in the sustainable agriculture space. Our expertise in AI and remote sensing has a very broad application however, and we also see enormous opportunity in the financial sector, particularly insurance and banking. We are also building out a suite of services that will help companies understand and track environmental impact across multiple sectors.

VIA SATELLITE: What do you see as the role of AI in the space industry? What role will it have in key verticals like agriculture?

Geach: AI enables us to ask questions of data in new ways, and therefore extract valuable insights and intelligence that would otherwise be impossible, or at least very difficult. The space industry is awash with data, be it in EO or communications. At Aspia Space we are using AI to rapidly turn raw imagery into valuable data products.

Grass management, and indeed agricultural monitoring in general, can be transformed by space. Our PastureEyes algorithm, which in essence measures grass height from space, is a perfect example. With a satellite’s vantage point one can literally watch every single field on a daily basis or better at high resolution. For labor-intensive tasks such as field-walking to survey the condition of crops, satellite imagery can save farmers’ valuable time – allowing them to focus on other things.

The real power comes when that data can be elevated to higher-value products that actually inform decision-making that leads to cost-savings and increases in productivity. Through a deep learning algorithm, we were able to correlate the remote sensing data taken by Sentinel-1 with ground truth data in the form of actual grass height measurements on the ground. This allows farmers to actually manage their pasture – for example, deciding when and where to move grazing cattle. The complexity of this relationship would be hard to derive using traditional analytical approaches, but is a task perfectly suited to AI. It’s that link between different types of data, from different sources in space and on the ground that offer the most promise – especially in sectors such as agriculture where we can build tailored solutions to serve our customers’ needs.

VIA SATELLITE: There is always so much so much talk of AI recently. How do you see things like AI and ChatGPT having an impact in the satellite industry?

Geach: AI is not a panacea, and there is a danger of hype and ‘buzzwordism’ around this topic. On its own, AI cannot magically give us answers or insight, and its outputs must always be scrutinized and validated. Ultimately, AI represents a set of powerful tools, and as we are showing these can have a massive impact in the satellite industry – not only in the analysis of data, but also in satellite design and operations. But these tools must always be part of a wider set that includes traditional subject matter expertise. Together, human intelligence supported by artificial intelligence becomes a powerful combination that will transform not just the satellite industry but all industries one way or another. In a lot of cases, we’ll simply see improvements in the efficiency of working with data – for example in cutting the amount of time it takes to do what were previously laborious tasks. But like all tools, the outcomes we get, and the potential for impact depend on the competency of the user. While there are lots of flashy examples emerging that grab the attention, the real test will be what AI applications actually create value.

VIA SATELLITE: Could you tell us about working with nVIDIA inception and the benefits of that?

Geach: The NVIDIA inception program has been a very effective resource for us. It has enabled us to leverage the knowledge of NVIDIA to help shape our technology platform, and to accelerate our product development through their partnership with AWS. They focus strongly on developing the commercial side of the business. NVIDIA has a strong team who offer subject matter expertise not only for the hardware, but also have taken the time to understand our business and offer advice on marketing our solutions in specific verticals.

VIA SATELLITE: What impact can software have on a sector like satellite?

Geach: AI augmented platforms are essential for the development of the satellite sector: the market is ripe for innovative companies to leverage the power of satellite data, combined with expertise in AI to build new products and open up new markets. The satellite market is quite traditional, and its pricing model has typically stayed static for some time. However, the convergence of satellite, cloud and AI has been accelerating for some time, and the challenge will be for the commercial engagement with providers and customers to keep up with innovation.

VIA SATELLITE: What are your funding plans? When will Aspia Space become profitable?

Geach: We are currently self-funding through client revenues. To consolidate and grow, we may consider a variety of funding sources. These could include both institutional and government backed funding. We are currently operating profitably.

VIA SATELLITE: What represents success for Aspia Space for you?

Geach: Success for Aspia Space will be measured on a number of fronts. We are keen to further cement and grow our success in the sustainable agriculture market, while building out fresh services that are accessible for other markets, such as finance. We will continue to expand the team and develop an international presence, but ultimately, we will be measured by the success and growth of our clients.