Turning Images Into Information With Satellite Observation And Machine Learning
Tell us your background and about Latitudo 40
Latitudo's founders have been working in the space sector for several years with myself in the marketing and business development area, whilst Mauro and Donato have been in the R&D area. Donato is a university researcher engaged in SAR applications.
The idea of Latitudo comes from the awareness that extracting information from satellite images is a complex process that requires a dedicated organization, which only large companies can afford. Latitudo40 wants to bring Earth analytics within the reach of everyone, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. This vision has turned into our startup that is launching an end-to-end cloud platform that can build and manage an application that performs geospatial analytics in four steps and integrate the results into any application, such as SAP or a GIS.
The idea of Latitudo comes from the awareness that extracting information from satellite images is a complex process that requires a dedicated organization, which only large companies can afford.
Early market feedback makes us confident that the path taken is the right one and. In 2019 we concluded a major business agreement with a leading operator in the transmission of electricity, which is using our platform to better know the status of its distribution network.
How did the idea for Latitudo 40 come about and what was it like getting started?
As I said, we started from the analysis of a problem and we tried to give an effective and efficient answer, pooling the skills of the team, adequately balanced with skills in data science, image processing, software development, business and visual design. Our product wants to try to fill a market gap, creating a horizontal platform with connectors to the catalogs of the main operators and a series of "blocks" of analysis ready to use, based on algorithms of machine learning and artificial intelligence (we call them detectors).
The workflow system at the base of everything allows to orchestrate the different operations and create, automatically, the final result, which consists of useful information for those who have to make business decisions. This could be the manager who manages the maintenance of a water or energy distribution network, a city manager who has to plan urban development and analyze some indices of quality of life in the city and monitor any abuse or an insurance company that has to monitor the contracts distributed over a very large area.
The concept is absolutely innovative in the field of reference and allows to create a new application in a very short time. One of the examples of application is the creation of an index of sustainability of a city. The user only has to select the area of interest, indicate the period of analysis and select the detector "urban quality index".
One of the examples of application is the creation of an index of sustainability of a city.
Our platform will periodically perform the analysis and will return indices based on heat maps, the presence of cars and green ubano, all without specific knowledge of image processing and artificial intelligence.
To implement our idea we put all our energy into finding a team able to create our first MVP. We started to tell our idea to potential customers and realize several proof of concepts that then turned into real services. We founders have worked in large companies and we have merged this experience with the Agile logic proposed by Vincenzo (the fourth founder). This has allowed us, through a process of continuous testing on all business hypotheses and techniques, to get to the first commercial successes and that makes us ready now to start a process of international expansion.
How did you fund the company initially?
This was one of the main problems we had to face because in Italy it is very difficult to access funding for projects at an early stage of development. Our first sponsor was ourselves, as three of the founders have a company that offers system integration services and software development and decided to finance the new project using the cash flow of the company Penta Technology.
We believed very much in this project and for this reason we decided to invest about €500,000 for its development. Finally we are attracting the attention of investors and we are in the final phase of negotiations for a round of about 1.5M euro.
Why is the problem you are solving important and how does it help human space exploration?
Petabytes of satellite imagery have become accessible at increasing resolution and lower cost. Despite these enormous technological advances, only a marginal part of the information contained in these images is actually used to support business processes, monitoring and prevention activities. The technology is still complex enough to use and requires specific domain knowledge and initial investment to become familiar with the technology.
Petabytes of satellite imagery have become accessible at increasing resolution and lower cost.
The Latitudo40 project aims to offer a solution that can overcome this technological barrier through a visual development environment that offers:
- Simplification of access to satellite data through "connectors" to the catalogues of the main market operators (Copernicus, Digital Globe, Planet, etc.) and the new smallsat constellations.
- Presence of a constantly growing catalogue of "reusable blocks" that make the process of analysis and elaboration simple and fast. Each block performs specific operations (e.g. the classification of buildings or the recognition of roads). The user has at his disposal a visual system that allows to combine images and analysis blocks. At the end of the application construction, users can run workflows by simply selecting their area of interest on a map.
- EarthAlytics infrastructure scales-up on demand to fetch the data, run the processing and deliver the results. In this way, anybody can derive insights from commercial and open geospatial data, at both small and large scale.
This is the value proposition of Latitudo40: the fastest and easiest way to build, manage and scale geospatial applications.
What are some achievements you're proud of?
We have a short history but we have already achieved important results. In 2017, we joined the European Space Agency's incubation programme in the Business Incubator in Rome. We won two local challenges on infrastructure monitoring with the use of artificial intelligence with E-geos. In 2019 we managed to conclude the first significant contract for the monitoring of a first section of the national electricity grid.
In the meantime, we have started to conclude the first commercial contracts with national customers and started to collaborate with some potential international customers. It is not yet enough, we want to quickly scale the market to become a reference point at least at European level.
What have been some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
It was not easy to start the project. The Latitudo40 founders focused everything on the vision of earth observation 2.0. In the first phase of our lives it was not easy to find a team with the appropriate experience to follow our vision. The approach to satellite imagery was usually traditional and we had to look for people with the right skills and the desire to take on a big challenge.
In this process we were close to a department of the University of Naples led by professors Gianni Poggi and Annalisa Verdoliva, with great experience in image processing and important collaborations with the DARPA. The collaboration with the world of academic research has allowed us to find adequate resources for the vision of our project. The second point was the search for capital. After a series of unsuccessful rounds we decided to be the first investors in this ambitious project.
We have proved on our own that only by firmly believing in the ultimate goal is it possible to overcome the many obstacles on the road to success.
Despite the road we've traveled so far, we now have to overcome another major obstacle, that of educating the market about the use of monitoring using satellite images.
We have proved on our own that only by firmly believing in the ultimate goal is it possible to overcome the many obstacles on the road to success.
Today this technology is almost unknown or seen with great distrust because it is not easy to put on a project that uses this data. We are working to create a model of smart places without sensors, as there are enough satellites in orbit to provide customers with all the information they need. This is the mission we have entrusted to the members of the marketing and communication team. To transform technology and applications from a niche market to a mainstream market.
During the development of the project we also measured ourselves with new technological challenges. First of all to create a cloud infrastructure able to function at best with different types of neural networks adaptable to different contexts of analysis (such as Keras and TensorFlow). These networks are not always designed for use with spatial images and we had to create appropriate datasets necessary for their training.
We never gave up on difficulties, we were so wrong, but in the end we managed to achieve our goal.
The most complex step was however to create a series of libraries in Python to allow the achievement of the goal of our project, ie create a highly customizable model and easy to use for everything. We never gave up on difficulties, we were so wrong, but in the end we managed to achieve our goal.
What are exciting milestones coming up for Latitudo 40?
Surely in the very short term - the 6 months - we aim to complete some of the features of our workflow engine for earth observation. This is to make it even easier to use with more connectors to the catalogs of satellite operators, including the new small satellite constellations, and increase the number of detectors available to our customers.
In the medium term we have two objectives: to launch the project internationally, also with the opening of new foreign offices, and to lay the foundations for our satellite constellation. For the latter, we have already started a collaboration with the University of Naples for the launch of a first test satellite. The project is still is in its embryonic phase and we are following it as a side-business - to avoid distractions from our main objective.
What advice do you have for aspiring space entrepreneurs?
The first thing I want to say is that, today, space offers incredible and unthinkable business opportunities. When I started 20 years ago, this was an industry only for large system integrators.
To new space entrepreneurs, I can only recommend to believe in the project vision and approach its execution with a validated learning approach, experimenting continuously and dialoguing with the market to find the killer application.
Today, space offers incredible and unthinkable business opportunities.
Surely, as in any other sector, the business idea contributes only a small part to the success of the initiative. In my opinion, 90% depends on the ability to execute, team building and ability to be ready to do pivots, to adapt the daily activities to the results that come from validation.
We've been following this path from the beginning and have made several changes in the business model, right downstream of validations with potential customers.
Finally, you should not be jealous of your idea but be ready to share. In this market there is a great desire to cooperate and collaborate and together with other entrepreneurs and start-ups you can give an answer to some weaknesses.
How can the public support you with your mission?
We are a constantly evolving reality, we believe very much in the validation of our business idea and therefore we are open to dialogue with other startups and companies that want to try to use our product to give us suggestions and advice to improve its user experience.
You should not be jealous of your idea but be ready to share.
So we believe in the power of networking to expand our business opportunities and we are convinced that Space Bandits can give us a great opportunity to meet partners with whom to start a collaboration.
We are also constantly looking for people who want to share this adventure with us - both data scientists and experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Also, one of the objectives we have is to internationalize our team to bring new stimuli and new experiences.
Clearly, we would not mind to have a comparison with potential investors, who may be interested in joining those we have already identified to give more strength to our project of international growth and to pursue our mission of Earth Analytics made simple.
Lastly, where can people find out more about Latitudo 40 and follow along?
With pleasure I leave my contacts, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to respond to all requests for clarification or deepening. Anyone interested in the Latitudo40 project can follow us on our website www.latitudo40.com and on our LinkedIn page Latitudo40.
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