Satellite imagery offers a fresh look at urban planning

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Alice Cruickshank

For most people, the everyday use of satellite imagery begins and ends with Google Maps. But these images are a far cry from the current standard of Earth observation images commercially available today.

Construction companies, engineers and urban planners can all benefit from this technology. Here’s how.

Images are photographed using Earth Observation satellites, which can range from a couple of feet long to massive, complex structures. The blossoming nanosatellite industry means this technology is more accessible than ever before.

Satellites fly at heights from 180km above Earth to as high as 36,000km. The height offers images covering a much larger area than a drone can provide, though a drone can offer more detailed pictures.

Satellites can record large amounts of data relatively quickly. It is not just photographs that can be captured via satellite, but also infrared, thermal and radar imagery. For this reason satellites can be used in a variety of ways across the industry.

Why should the property industry use satellite imagery?

Satellite images offer economical, extremely accurate and fast assessment of land and development.

On the largest scale, satellite imagery is beneficial for infrastructure planning and urban intelligence. The images can be used for estimating population figures, watching cities grow, and assisting in predicting demand for infrastructure and public services.

For smaller projects, specific construction projects can also benefit from satellite imagery. The size of a construction site is large enough so that it can be detected and visualised from a satellite image, and the overhead perspective allows for progress monitoring over a period of time.

Where can I source satellite images?

Here are five companies – from the UK and further afield- offering the latest satellite technology for commercial purposes.

Planet | This San Francisco and Berlin-based company offers near constant imaging of the entire planet using its 190-plus satellites in orbit. While the data aren’t construction specific, these images are available to purchase by anyone and cover the entire globe.

bird.i | bird.i’s USP is that it offers commercial satellite imagery and insight in one place. The images can be used to compare an area over a period of time, and Bird.i also offer a ‘construction tracker’, where they provide updates of when new buildings and infrastructure appear – particularly valuable for keeping up-to-date with competitors, as well as monitoring your own projects.

Earth-i | UK-based Earth-i uses ultra-high-resolution satellites to provide quality image and video data. These images have a variety of applications across a variety of industries. Urban management and smart city planners can use the satellites to aid urban zoning and population density mapping.

Central Alliance | One of the main advantages Central Alliance proposes for satellite imagery is the health and safety benefit of providing accurate visuals of difficult-to-access areas. Central Alliance doesn’t use its own satellites, but rather works in partnership with the likes of DigitalGlobe and Airbus, to offer both current and historical images.

Terrabotics | Terrabotics offers a slightly different service by transforming satellite, aerial and drone imagery into high precision 3D terrain data and digital elevation models. The firm claims this data is useful for efficient site selection, assessing visual impact of a potential site, and measuring potential noise pollution effects.

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