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Tapping into the expertise of multiple SPRINT university partners

CASE STUDY: 2EXCEL GEO AND SPRINT WORKS ON COLLABORATIVE PROJECT TO REMOVE THE IMPACT OF CLOUD SHADOWS

The company was able to enhance its capability to exploit data collected in sub-optimal conditions

Through its five founding universities and with support from a range of Associate Member universities, SPRINT is delivered by a selection of the UK’s top space universities, bringing decades of world-leading experience at the cutting edge of space science, technology, applications and innovation.

Whilst most SPRINT projects have seen businesses collaborating with individual universities from the SPRINT network of academic partners, some companies have been able to utilise relationships with multiple SPRINT universities to support different product development projects.

2Excel Geo draws on expertise from SPRINT partners

One such company that has benefitted from SPRINT’s novel approach to knowledge exchange and industry-university collaboration is 2Excel Geo. The company provides high-quality hyperspectral images which have been developed using its proprietary software and analysed by its team of in-house experts. These images can be used to produce maps and datasets that inform a range of environmental management activities including habitat management, land management and tree management.

Through SPRINT, 2Excel Geo has worked with three universities from the SPRINT network, Leicester, Southampton and The Open University, drawing on their expertise in space research whilst moving through the various stages of the product development process. This involved taking their new application from prototyping to initial design, validation and testing and on to commercialisation.

Mitigation of cloud shadow in airborne imagery

The company first got involved with the SPRINT programme to work on a collaborative project to remove the impact of cloud shadows from high resolution Earth Observation imagery. The move would support 2Excel Geo’s development of a new application that would supply detailed airborne data to a range of industries including agriculture, conservation, risk management, ecology, landscape management and water quality.

One of the challenges that 2Excel Geo had to contend with, revolved around how Earth Observation imagery is often accompanied by cloud shadow. This results in data being discarded or processed separately, which in turn, increases the time and cost of the data analysis exercise that enables the building of accurate predictive models for forestry and environmental monitoring.

The 2Excel Geo team turned to the scientists at the University of Southampton and tapped into their expertise in image analysis, optimisation and high-performance computation to develop a technique that would reliably and accurately remove the impact of cloud shadows from high resolution Earth Observation imagery.

The University’s mathematical modelling expertise proved to be valuable in this particular project and it involved making use of prototyping methodologies which were then applied directly to 2Excel Geo’s datasets. In doing so, the company was able to enhance its capability to exploit data collected in sub-optimal conditions, i.e. those where cloud shadow was present.

High spatial and spectral resolution tree mapping and identification

The firm went on to conduct a second project in a similar vein using remote sensing for tree mapping and identification in urban and rural settings.

In this project, 2Excel Geo collaborated with leading academics from The Open University to develop ground-validation datasets to map, monitor and identify species of trees in urban and non-urban environments from airborne platforms. The study used different scales of hyperspectral Earth Observation data including a commercial airborne imaging spectrometer and a cutting-edge drone-mounted non-imaging system.

The project also incorporated the UK’s largest urban tree map, from the Treezilla citizen science platform, which provided unprecedented ground-validation of tree species and location.

Talking ahead of the project, Gary Llewellyn, Remote Sensing Consultant at 2Excel Geo said: “There are exciting satellite platforms in the launch stage, and we want to be ready to develop tools to best use and validate the data that they will capture. One of key things about these Earth Observation systems is that we will get significantly more detail from the combination of ground and airborne approaches, which will be fundamental in helping to build our datasets.

“Nothing can compete with the expertise of the university’s dedicated academic unit so we’re confident that the SPRINT project will enhance our level of domain expertise and improve our data, procedures and software.”

Gary Llewellyn, Remote Sensing Consultant at 2Excel Geo

Assessing the condition of potentially dangerous roadside trees

In a third SPRINT project, the company worked with the University of Leicester to develop an automated ground validation system to support airborne and orbital intelligence to identify those trees in roadside locations that may pose a risk to road users and could obstruct road networks.

The project combined the use of optical remote sensing with satellite global positioning of data collected from in-car dashboard camera footage to automatically validate tree health classifications derived from Earth Observation data. This proved to be a cost-effective validation tool for assessing the condition of potentially dangerous roadside trees in Britain.

Having achieved success with its first two SPRINT projects, 2Excel Geo went on to work with SPRINT partner, the Satellite Applications Catapult on a Commercialisation Engine Programme, to explore the commercial viability and technical feasibility of its remote sensing software.

Gary Llewellyn continued: “2Excel Geo specialises in data capture and analysing Earth Observation data but with all Earth Observation analysis, ground validation can be a real challenge. This limits the use of the data as it can often be expensive to validate in terms of time, resources and instrumentation.

“SPRINT funding has enabled us to access the expertise of the SPRINT universities for our research which has meant we can apply and assess novel validation techniques. This has opened up potentially automatable means of validation support for our application of identifying stressed or diseased trees on the sides of roads, thus helping highways authorities to mitigate potential problems or dangers.”

SPRINT succeeds

2Excel Geo has since been awarded two UK Space Agency NSIP grants for a follow on ‘TreeView: Precision Forestry to Tackle Climate Change’ project with SPRINT partner, The Open University. SPRINT was ‘a significant facilitator of concept development from an early pilot to proposed innovative space mission’.

Gary Llewellyn concluded: “SPRINT possibly advanced this line of development by two years.

“Where many other similar programmes fail, the SPRINT programme succeeds due to the backing of the UK Space Agency and the wide view that it takes on interpreting space science.”

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