Remote sensing: automation and the art of spying

NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility as seen during a photographic survey after it's retrieval by Columbia on mission STS-32. visible is the bay and town of Lüderitz in the top left corner.

By Clare Boston

Remote sensing technology has developed rapidly since the 1970s, providing an important tool for the large scale analysis of geomorphological data at a relatively low cost.   In the latest volume of Geography Compass, Easson and Momm discuss the use of evolutionary computation algorithms for image information extraction techniques, including image enhancement, image classification, feature extraction and modelling. Their review concludes that whilst evolutionary computation use in remote sensing applications is still in its early stages, it shows great promise for aiding data extraction and interpretation.

Whilst it is clear from this article that processing of remotely sensed images is likely to become increasingly automated in the future, the now widespread availability of satellite imagery has allowed an alternative form of data extraction through mass participation.  In an article in The Times Online, Ben Webster writes that Google is creating an ‘online detective tool’ which will enable environmentalists around the world to monitor rainforest deforestation by assessing differences between old and new satellite images which will be updated regularly.  Participants will then be able to report any illegal logging to a new international agency which is being set up to monitor countries’ commitments to reducing deforestation.  Google hopes to be able to launch this new tool next year, which will be available to anyone with internet access.

Read Easson and Momm (2010). Evolutionary computation for remote sensing applications. Geography Compass 4: 172-192.

Read ‘Google spyware will help vigilantes save rainforests’ in The Times Online.

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