Advances in satellite technology have led to an explosion of Earth observation data. Remote sensing satellites now collect huge volumes of imagery and information about our planet. This data holds enormous potential value for both commercial and consumer applications. However, companies looking to sell geospatial data and services directly to the public face obstacles around awareness, complexity, privacy, competition and practical use cases.
Lack of Consumer Awareness
One of the biggest hurdles is that most people have very little awareness or understanding of Earth observation data to begin with. Unlike a weather app or maps on their phone, they don’t grasp how satellite imagery and geospatial analytics may benefit them. The very phrase “Earth observation data” sounds complex and niche to the average consumer. They don’t wake up thinking about synthetic aperture radar imagery or land use classification.
Companies need to invest heavily in marketing and education to explain what this data is, where it comes from and how it can be used in plain language. An analogy to GPS navigation may resonate more than talking about spectral bands and spatial resolutions. Creative visualization and data storytelling will make the concepts more tangible for a mainstream audience.
Perception of High Complexity
Working with satellite imagery requires specialized software, technical skills and training that may not be accessible to most people. The ability to process raw remote sensing data into usable information remains largely within the domains of scientists, geospatial analysts and GIS professionals.
Providers face a difficult task in abstracting away this complexity into an interface and tools that consumers can comfortably navigate. This may mean limiting options, automating analysis and introducing more guided workflows with appropriate defaults.
Intuitive dashboards, simplified workflows and self-serve options can lower the barriers to adoption. But for more advanced use cases, providers may lean on consultation services and custom analysis by in-house experts rather than exposing full complexity to users.
Privacy and Ethical Concerns
Satellite imagery captures a bird’s eye view of people’s houses and daily lives. This raises understandable concerns around privacy and consent. Providers must establish stringent policies around pixelation, redaction and responsible data practices to address these worries.
Being transparent about collection methods, sources and intended applications is important. Explicit opt-in consent and restrictive licensing on how the data may be used will help reassure consumers. There also needs to be accountability around potential military application and tracking of marginalized groups.
The costs associated with satellite infrastructure, data transmission and analytical software have historically put this data out of reach for most public consumers. But to reach a wider demographic, providers will need to get creative with pricing models.
Options like usage-based purchasing, discounted consumer bundles and freemium tiers can improve accessibility. Packaging targeted single-use apps or selling through in-app transactions provides more granular monetization. Partnerships with distributors like Skyfi can help subsidize costs as well.
One of the challenges providers face is competition from free public data sources like Landsat, COPERNICUS or USGS Earth Explorer. Free online tools like Google Earth have also set user expectations around inexpensive or free imagery. To compete, companies need clear pricing justified by exclusive data sources, higher resolutions, advanced analytics and ease of use.
Limited Consumer Use Cases
Most regular consumers are unaware of practical use cases that would justify purchasing Earth imagery or analytics. Providers need to invest in market research and product design to identify and validate ideas that resonate with the public.
Some consumer scenarios could include: property analysis for home buyers, tracking construction projects, monitoring crops and landscaping, measuring roof sizes for solar panels, or planning hiking and biking routes. The use cases need to be tangible problems that imagery or spatial data can solve for a mainstream audience.
Lack of Integration into Existing Tools
To seamlessly fit satellite data into consumers’ lives, integration with commonly used apps and platforms is key. Partnerships with navigation apps, real estate platforms, and map services to enable functionality and analysis through their interfaces can make adoption frictionless.
Allowing location-based mobile apps to trigger relevant geospatial functions behind the scenes can create delightful experiences. Data visualization widgets tailored for social media feeds, blogs and messaging could also promote integration.
The Recency Challenge
Consumers expect frequently updated data mirrored against real-world changes. But the recency and refresh rate of satellite imagery still lags behind user expectations. This is compounded by the limited lifetimes of satellites before their sensors degrade and imagery grows outdated.
Companies need to invest in rapid revisit times across diverse satellite constellations to collect imagery at broad scales. Automating processing and analysis pipelines will also accelerate delivery of data to users.
Selling Earth observation data directly to consumers is an intriguing opportunity but not without its obstacles. Companies need to pour effort into education, simplicity, transparency, affordability and integration to make geospatial data valuable and accessible to the public. With the right products and marketing tailored to consumer needs, they can open up new mainstream applications for Earth observation.