A service which uses ‘spy in the sky’ satellite technologies to detect waste crime is being launched by UK firm Air & Space Evidence - the “world’s first space detective agency”.
The new service called Waste from Space, is based on the company’s development of a semi-automated detection model utilising satellite data and machine learning algorithms, enabling us it offer a geospatial intelligence tool said to able to can detect serious waste crime.
The company noted that waste crime is increasingly causing significant damage to society and is estimated to cost the UK more than a billion pounds a year. Across the EU t is estimated to cost €72 – 90 billion per annum.
In England alone more than 1000 illegal waste sites are said to spring up each year. One single site discovered in Northern Ireland is believed to contain 1.5 million tonnes of illegally deposited waste – which is significantly more municipal waste than the whole of Northern Ireland produces in a year (i.e. 969,157 tonnes in 2015-2016).
To help it develop its technology, In 2016/2017 Air and Space Evidence received funding from the European Space Agency, Open Data Incubator for Europe (ODINE), and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency to conduct research and trials examining how this problem can be tackled using space technologies. The company is now launching its waste crime monitoring service to governments.
“Waste crime is highly lucrative – and can also be hard to detect,” commented Ray Purdy, Director at Air and Space Evidence. “Governments need new investigatory approaches because at the moment they are several steps behind waste crime gangs.”
“We will offer a much needed, innovative intelligence gathering and analysis service to governments, whereby we can identify waste crime that Governments are not aware of, bringing immense value to their work and enabling them to catch more waste crime gangs in the act,” he continued.
How it Works
The company explained that modern satellites can see objects as small as manhole covers, at nearly any location on Earth at nearly any time and its analysts can look back into the past using specialist data archives. It can then undertake pro-active intelligence gathering, identifying operational unlawful sites using tasked satellite data and analysis algorithms.
According to the company, enabling successful early interventions (whilst problems are manageable) will catch criminals and enable governments to drastically reduce operational costs and environmental hazards.
However, the company added that finding illegal waste sites is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. They can be concealed, be different shapes and sizes, and be in a wide variety of locations.
To tackle this the firm combined a variety of techniques from both radar and optical satellite sensors, aided by mapping data, to discriminate standard land use types, concentrating on anomalies. It said that in taking this approach it effectively focused on finding the needle by eliminating the haystack.
The technique it developed discards the vast majority of items in the search area and allows analysts to isolate a realistic number of suspicious areas for further close-up satellite investigation. In the product trials 71% of sites identified as potential illegal waste sites were proved to be so.
“Waste crime can cause environmental damage to surrounding land, air and water, and poses a risk to human and animal health. Living near an unlawful waste site can also ruin people’s lives. We are aiming to use cutting edge space technology to significantly reduce the scale of the waste crime problem,” commented Prof. Ray Harris, Director at Air and Space Evidence.
The firm was also a Finalist for the European Earth Observation Product of the Year Award 2017 (for ‘Waste from Space’). The winner will be announced by the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies on July 4, 2017.
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