A recent piece in the Atlantic this week highlights remarkable new developments in satellite technology developed by American engineers. These new technologies could transform modern business by enabling companies to more directly target consumers and view real-time information about changes in the global marketplace.
Skybox Imaging, a new company founded by former Air Force officer John Fenwick, is harnessing technologies similar to those used in Google Earth to develop low-cost satellites capable of taking images of any location on Earth that may transform the future of modern business. With a reported $91 million in venture capital funding and a staff that includes former NASA and Pentagon officials, this innovative new company is well on its way to making major breakthroughs in satellite imaging technology. The types of information Skybox's microsatellites would collect have been described as "digital gold dust" that could contain vast information to re-shape modern business.
Its cameras could capture, for example, images of crop-growth across the world to facilitate macroeconomic predictions, or evaluate consumption data by imaging the number of cars in every Walmart parking lot across the globe. The technology could even help reveal information about oil tanker movement in order to better gauge where the price of oil is headed.
It is the potential for low-cost availability on the private market that makes these satellites truly revolutionary. Previous satellite technologies that the government used were the size of an SUV, and generally weighed up to two tons. And unlike slower-moving and expensive camera-wielding drones and outdated global imaging technologies that often had several years of lag time, like Google Earth, the SkyBox satellites are small and cheaply made.
The challenge ahead is developing effective legal protections to regulate this relatively uncharted area of aerospace. And, while the U.S. Department of Commerce has been actively engaged in working to regulate the optical and radar satellite industry, the government itself has traditionally worked very closely with private satellite companies in the past. For example, the imaging company DigitalGlobe, which is responsible for online map content such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and Bing Maps, holds a reported 60% of its business from the U.S. government.
The potential, then, for SkyBox's technologies to contribute to government surveillance capabilities or enable crimes like corporate espionage will, of course, raise some questions and fears from both businesses and consumers. But it is the near-terrifying range of potential offered by these technologies that SkyBox's founders find most compelling about their business' potential for success.
"If you look at companies that truly transformed industries, they're the ones that facilitated a new level of access," 27-year-old co-founder Julian Mann told reporters. "If there's not a capacity to exploit something for evil, it's probably not that revolutionary."