Indian startups readying to take to the skies to offer better insights on the ground

Indian startups readying to take to the skies to offer better insights on the ground
Photo Credit: Pixabay
27 Dec, 2021

Awais Ahmad, co-founder of Indian geospatial technology startup Pixxel, is looking forward to the New Year. After multiple delays due to operational glitches and a host of other factors, his startup is finally set to launch the first satellite of its planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Likewise, GalaxEye, another startup building its own satellite constellation, says it will be launching the first member of its 15-satellite constellation in early 2023. Back on the ground, geospatial survey company Genesys International recently announced its plan to create high resolution 3D maps of 100 Indian cities by mid-2023.

The expansion of Indian companies looking to offer a variety of data, analytics and services, while developing products as they go along, comes in the aftermath of the Indian government liberalising access to geospatial and remote sensing data in February 2021.

Geospatial data is a set of information that pinpoints location information on Earth, and is used for a wide variety of purposes such as agriculture analysis, forestry information, mining, consumer-grade maps and more. 

At the time of opening access to more entities, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) said in a statement on 15 February, “Data that is readily available across the world does not need to be regulated.”

Explaining how the liberalised policies have helped the potential of businesses in geospatial data, Suyash Singh, co-founder and chief executive of GalaxEye, said, “One of our clients works with a dam management authority. They (the latter) do not want to dabble in satellite imagery, but want end-actionable inputs based on analytics -- on how to manage water harvesting and other areas. So, they approached our client who will be sourcing satellite imagery from us, applying their own analytics tools on the data, and serving the end results to the dam management authority.”

Next-generation mapping products and services have also risen to the fore, since the easing of access to mapping data. 

Ola, one of India’s biggest ride-hailing and mobility companies, announced in October that it had acquired GeoSpoc, a geospatial data startup. Bhavish Aggarwal, founder and chief executive of Ola, said in a statement that the former will help Ola build 3D and vector maps, as well as real-time location products.

“Accurate and rich maps with high user context should be available to the population beyond the first 100 million users. Multi-modal transportation options will need geospatial intelligence to understand the unique benefits of each option and provide suggestions accordingly,” Aggarwal said in a statement on 5 October.

Genesys International, a 26-year-old Indian geospatial data company, announced something similar -- but on an industry scale. Sajid Malik, chairman of Genesys, announced earlier this month the company’s plan to create high-resolution 3D maps of 100 Indian cities. The company will use a host of sensors, including LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors and high-resolution satellite data, to create the maps , which Malik intends to sell to companies as geospatial content as a service.

“...Urban planning divisions can source our data for smart city planning, setting up of solar panels with shadow insights, and so on,” Malik had said at the launch of Genesys’ 3D mapping service.

GalaxEye’s Singh says once its first satellite is deployed, the company will seek to offer targeted services to industries. He believes the data generated by hyperspectral satellites would be significantly richer than present, comparable data. The reason is that hyperspectral imagery records a wider range of wavelengths of light, allowing satellites to produce a significantly more detailed image.

“For instance, in the oil and gas industry, the application (of satellite imagery data) is in monitoring of infrastructure. Using drones requires a full team, and there are limitations in terms of range, battery life and regulations. Companies such as ONGC and BPCL have perfected this technology over the years, and have the best algorithms to pinpoint parts of their infrastructure through GPS and aerial imagery. But, replicating and applying this technique on a wider scale is difficult, which is where satellite imagery comes in,” Singh says.

While both Pixxel and GalaxEye declined to divulge names of their clients, both claimed to have signed pre-launch clients in India and international markets. 

Pixxel’s Ahmad says the demand for hyperspectral imagery satellites is far greater in international markets. Singh, however, says his startup has already signed letters of intent (LoIs) with multiple data vendors and satellite analytics resellers.