We’ve all seen it. That distant view of our beautiful blue planet; teeming with organic life and glimmering with the human footprint of city lights. Once a rare image seen in textbooks and special TV broadcasts, the Earth has become accessible to us 365 days a year with the click of a button. Mid-2013 marks the launch of Urthecast, a 24-hour high definition livestream of the Earth from space, which will allow us to zoom in to within several meters of the ground. It will change the way we experience global information; adding in a social layer to a visual of the Earth that will give us a virtual finger on the pulse of the world.
The Vancouver-based startup has been working for two years on an international program that involves partnerships that span Russia, Canada and the United States. Cameras are produced in Canada, assembled in the UK, and then launched into space by Russia.
In collaboration with the Russian Space Agency, Urthecast will have a special camera positioned on the International Space Station in the first half of 2013; which will deliver high quality video to the world. From that point on, WE will the be the cast.
Unlike Google Earth, which captures still images of the globe every few years, Urthecast will circle the globe, taking live video of the same locations every couple of weeks. Users will be able to enter in their coordinates and view recent video, tag information into the stream, as well as view a countdown to the next time the camera will be overhead. This will allow for some fun “surprises” like marriage proposals, happy birthday messages, flash mobs, flashers and who knows what else.
The visuals will be layered with real-time conversations from Facebook, Foursuare, Twitter, News outlets and Wikipedia so we can get a sense of what people are saying in different parts of the world at different times.
What makes this project so interesting is how this information will be used and repurposed. The possibilities are endless when it comes to what can be done with the data. In addition to the regular service, there is also a revenue model, which will allow them to sell the data to the Earth observation market. This includes organizations that monitor natural disasters and crises across the globe. The United Nations, for example, has already expressed interest in using Urthecast for educational and environmental purposes. Imaging if we were able to monitor earthquakes, floods and even clear cutting in near real-time?
Urthecast President, Scott Larson says a non-profit in Holland is already on board to use the tool in a unique way. Their plan is to sign up a million activists who will each receive coordinates to a patch of rainforest. Their task will be to monitor clear cutting in the area -which is illegal – and report it to the authorities if they see anything suspicious.
Larson and the Urthecast team are preparing to release the Beta of the website before Christmas. Until the camera is launched and feeding live in mid-2013, we’ll be able to see test data and how it will be layered onto the livestream of Earth. Sign up on their website to receive a notification when the beta goes live.
Next year, we’ll all be able to tune in and watch our beautiful blue planet from above. And on that day, WE will be the cast in our own film.
PUBLICATION: Vancouver Is Awesome