Sensors and systems configurations are proliferating whether for satellites with ground-based analysis and service delivery or with the components and central monitoring of the smart city. Regardless of the size of deployment, whether space-based constellations or networked ground configurations, there’s always an eye to the bottom line benefit of improved monitoring. Study after study shows that the extent of the benefit from greater awareness and ongoing monitoring has much larger economic benefits than the cost of the system itself, but what really spurs value is to make the data openly available, and for free.
There have been a complex set of questions that come up when a government invests in a new sensing system and decides how the resulting data from the system will be disseminated. The need for a debate about cost recovery or covering operating costs has gradually warn away, or at least been muted, by the growing mantra to make data free for greater government transparency and citizen awareness. It turns out that the value of the data lies mostly in its use, and by eliminating the friction of charging for the data, a number of useful solutions and value-added services arise.
The European Union is on the cusp of sending an environment and security satellite sensing constellation into space through their Copernicus program. EU-funded studies have shown that Copernicus could generate a financial benefit of some € 30 billion and create around 50,000 jobs in Europe by 2030. Moreover, the open dissemination for Copernicus data is seen as an aid to citizens, businesses, researchers and policy makers who will be able to integrate an environmental dimension into all their activities and decision-making procedures.
These space-based sensors foster the development of a market for satellite-enabled products and services, which provide jobs to those that analyze these inputs to provide forecasts and perspectives. By opening up the data, it lowers the barrier for new business startups and provides skilled analytical services that the government alone could not afford due to the high market cost of data analysis skills. Opening the data ensures its wide use and importance, while also inspiring the creation of creative and insightful services that provide income and employment.
The consulting firm McKinsey and Co. has estimated open data from the U.S. government and elsewhere could add more than $3 trillion annually to the global economy if it was fully exploited. McKinsey’s discussion of this “liquid information” is an apt analogy that gets to the natural state of data that wants to find the market, just as water wants to find the lowest elevation. Just as we’ve harnessed and altered the path of water, we’ve created barriers and siloed systems that prevent free flow for optimum insight.
Without information dams and gates, the information is free to flow to power new applications and dashboards. Free and open data provides the fuel for these new applications that can further aggregate and work in concert with other data sources to provide answers. Just as free Landsat data is a complement to commercial satellite imagery, providing a different and complementary companion, so too will Copernicus data complement other data sources on the market. In the case of Landsat, it has only recently become freely available and accessible, finding its phenomenal value upon becoming free.
System investments are notoriously difficult to quantify compared to sensors. Sensors simply require adequate detection capacity and coverage, so justifying new sensors is simply a matter of analyzing coverage and sensing capacity. Systems that aggregate sensor data in contrast are tied to improved outcomes, whether that’s greater efficiency or the ability to predict future outcomes. The calculation of return on investment (ROI) that’s tied to alternative scenarios where the system doesn’t exist are tricky to calculate, but there are means and methods for doing so.
With a sensor array, each incident where there wasn’t complete coverage shows a deficiency in sensors rather than the ability of the system to detect and notify regarding a change. With the recent lost Malaysia airliner for instance, China among others has begun investigating the development of a global imaging system to fill a gap, with a focus on more sensors rather than improved outcomes from existing sensors. Arguably, better aggregation and integration of existing sensors might have the same outcome at much less of the cost.
Today, sensors and systems are providing an unprecedented insight into the complexities of our planet. Thankfully, while the sensors and systems advance, they are becoming easier rather than harder to access. Free and open provide the fuel for further advancements.