All posts by Daniel Davies

Satellites to aid disaster relief with immediate real-time image capturing

A space technology startup is developing an imaging radar instrument that can provide real-time access to imagery, regardless of weather or daylight conditions.

The device, by the startup company Iceye, provides quick-response pictures from space by using microsatellites equipped with imaging radar technology.

The Iceye instruments are capable of seeing through clouds, obscure weather conditions, and in the dark – all conditions that limit camera-based services in situations where waiting for daylight and nice weather is not an option.

Images courtesy of Iceye

The images provided by Iceye could be used to help search and rescue services, and provide additional support to disaster relief organisations.

Iceye’s co-founder and CEO, Rafal Modrzewski, described how early iterations of the technology are working as a tool for humanitarian causes.

“Just last week, we were in Greece to help the aid organisations. They are struggling to rescue the refugees crossing the bay to Lesvos in their overcrowded boats,” he said.

“We brought ground-based radars to track the vessels and they were game changing to the rescue operation, but their range is limited. The order-to-delivery time for commercially available satellite imagery is around a week, which doesn’t help if the boats can capsize and disappear in minutes. That’s why we are working hard every day to get our own service up and running.”

Industries such as logistics, energy, agriculture and anyone involved in space exploration could also benefit from having fast access to the images Iceye satellites will be able to provide once the concept is fully realised.

Similar technology to Iceye’s satellites is already used by government and military operators, but the company hopes to make this quick-response imagery open to the mass market. For that to happen, the cost of the technology would have to drop.

Pekka Laurila, Iceye’s co-founder and CFO, said: “We want to make this technology accessible to everyone at a commercially feasible cost level, which means reducing the satellite unit prices over 100 fold compared to traditional satellites. One of the ways we achieve this is by utilising off-the-shelf mobile electronics and mass manufacturing.”

Images courtesy of Iceye

Images courtesy of Iceye

Iceye’s satellites are designed to operate in swarms of multiple units. By doing this the company hope they will be more reliable while still being capable of providing quick access to imagery from anywhere on the globe.

The size of the satellites also means they are 20 times lighter than those currently used by various governments.

“We believe this breakthrough in earth imaging is going to have a real positive impact on the world,” said Modrzewski.

VR, holograms and drones: The future of film

From sound to television, the film industry has always had to confront technological advances or face oblivion. So far film has managed to evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant, but can cinema maintain its rightful place at the head of popular culture?

In order to do so, film will once again have to fend off challenges from infant technologies, while simultaneously adapting what it does to meet the needs of an increasingly connected audience.

So for your viewing pleasure, we look at how the world of cinema as we know it is changing.

Automatically generate video from text

Have you ever found yourself arguing with someone about whether the book or the movie is the better version of something?  Well, if Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold have their way then there may be no further need to discuss the matter.

The technological duo have patented a device which can create a video or visual representation of any random selection of text.

Potentially, this could mean that there would be no need for lavish reproductions of our favourite books, because we will instantly be able to see what they would look like on screen.


Computer-generated actors

Actors may not be a necessary part of the future film industry. Paul Walker’s posthumous appearance in the seventh film in the Fast and Furious series has caused some to question the need for actors, especially if the technology were to develop sufficiently and allow them to be recreated from scratch.

The technology used in Fast and Furious Seven was developed by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital studio. To create the effect they used a combination of digital reconstruction techniques, as well as using Paul Walker’s brothers as stand-ins for the recently deceased star.

The cinema of the future could see actors — from both past and present — digitally constructed and inserted into films. If that were to happen, we may be spared scenes like this from American Sniper:

The cinema screen as just another platform

Cinema has faced competition from another platform before with the advent of television. But now film has to contend with television, tablets, phones and pervasive social media platforms.

The director Christopher Nolan has commented on cinema’s need to innovate and come up with bigger, better and more visually appealing ways of sharing film. “The audience experience is distinct from home entertainment, but not so much that people seek it out for its own sake,” he said.

“The experience must distinguish itself in other ways. And it will…These developments will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital ‘upgrades’ or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing.”

Perhaps in the future this could lead to theatres moving away from projecting a sequence of two-dimensional images in a darkened room and evolve into large-scale public attractions. For instance, we’ve already seen cinema move outside, with open-air cinema. Imagine where it could go in the future.


VR: entering the Matrix

We are just beginning to realise virtual reality’s capability, but the technology could be used to move audiences from witnessing events unfold to a world where they actually participate in them.

Just as theatres will have to innovate to maintain interest so will filmmakers, if they want to capitalise on the opportunity VR presents for immersive filmmaking.

At this point in VR’s development an off-the-shelf VR camera of true cinema quality doesn’t exist and the editing systems for VR are rudimentary. Most people working in VR are creating their own solutions. This leaves a massive opportunity for directors and filmmakers who excel when coming up with creative answers to technological problems.

So at this point in time, VR cinema needs its George Lucas or James Cameron: someone who can come along and redefine the technology.

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Drone cinematography

VR isn’t the only technology in development that could aid the film industry. Drones could eventually be a cheap and simple way of capturing aerial and crane shots, and in some cases are already being used.

Remember the aerial shot of Julie Andrews that opens The Sound of Music? That could be filmed with relative ease by using a drone. Hollywood studios are aware of the possibilities for drone technology, where previously tough and expensive shots are getting easier to produce.

However, the technology isn’t just useful to makers of fiction. Documentary filmmakers can use drone technology to reach areas that human camera operators cannot go, which is what happened in the capturing of this aerial shot of a waterfall in Norway:

Cinema is a still a young art form, and we are only just beginning to understand how to control, manipulate and share visual and aural perceptions. But by utilising new technology, cinema will find new ways of stimulating the senses.