Will This Amazon-CIA Mapping Project Revolutionize Waste Management?

by | Sep 2, 2016

satelliteIt sounds like space-age technology and in many ways it is: satellite mapping that could track waste from space.

Amazon, satellite operator DigitalGlobe, the CIA’s venture arm In-Q-Tel and computer chip maker Nvidia and Amazon have teamed up on a satellite imagery and data project called SpaceNet. The project’s data set will eventually include photos of half a million square kilometers of Earth and it will train artificial intelligence to analyze these high-resolution satellite images on its own, without human help.

As MIT Technology Review reports, this data could be used to map roads, buildings and infrastructure, as well as waste generation.

Late last month SpaceNet released its first public data set: high-resolution satellite photos of all of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The data set includes 220,594 building footprints, which can be used as training data for machine learning, Amazon says.

SpaceNet’s technology could prove very useful for private collection and waste management companies, according to Waste Dive. It could highlight waste collection needs and help fleet managers plan more efficient pick-up routes. In addition to making these regular collection activities more efficient, it could also help map clean-up needs after natural disasters or spills.

“Since satellite data of SpaceNet has a high resolution of several tens of centimeters, it should be good enough to see whether local disposed waste is much more than the capacity of trash bins,” said Jerrold Wang, Lux Research analyst. “Based on the information available so far, we believe the value proposition of the SpaceNet project is to monitor waste disposal and identify real-time trash collection needs in specific collection spots.”

Using SpaceNet’s data and analytics will also help improve waste and recycling companies’ customer service because it will allow them to pick up trash in a timely manner, Wang says.

But, he adds, SpaceNet alone may not be able to reshape waste management: “SpaceNet may be able to analyze waste volume according to high resolution satellite pictures, while the large waste management companies may know the first-hand granular data of waste volume already.”

The technology does, however, highlight the growing importance of data and analytics in waste management — an industry that has been slower to adopt smart technologies compared to the building and water sectors, for example.

Companies like Rubicon, the “Uber of trash,” are using cloud-based business models to increase recycling rates, enable on-demand waste pick-up and improve routing efficiency. Apple and NASA are using recycling robots to reduce waste and recover materials for recycling and reuse. Additionally, landfills are starting to look to drones for aerial monitoring, Waste Dive reports.

While still in their infancy, it’s a safe bet that these emerging technologies will continue to play a larger role in the waste and recycling industry. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next when it comes to smart waste management software, data and analytics. And hopefully it involves more robots.

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