The company, along with the European Space Agency (ESA) and computer vision and AI startup Ubotica, announced details of the PhiSat-1, an experimental CubeSat satellite that was ejected from a rocket’s dispenser on September 2 along with 45 other similarly small satellites. PhiSat-1 contains a new hyperspectral-thermal camera and onboard AI processing – thanks to an Intel Movidius Myriad 2 Vision Processing Unit (VPU), says the company, the same chip inside many smart cameras and even a $99 selfie drone.
PhiSat-1 is one of a pair of satellites on a mission to monitor polar ice and soil moisture, while also testing inter-satellite communication systems in order to create a future network of federated satellites. The first problem the Myriad 2 is helping to solve, say the organizations, is how to handle the large amount of data generated by high-fidelity cameras like the one on PhiSat-1.
"The capability that sensors have to produce data increases by a factor of 100 every generation," says Gianluca Furano, data systems and onboard computing lead at the European Space Agency, which led the collaborative effort behind PhiSat-1. "While our capabilities to download data are increasing, but only by a factor of three, four, five per generation."
At the same time, about two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered in clouds at any given time. That means, say the organizations, that a lot of useless images of clouds are typically captured, saved, sent over precious down-link bandwidth to Earth, saved again, reviewed by a scientist (or an algorithm) on a computer hours or days later — only to be deleted.
"And artificial intelligence at the edge came to rescue us, the cavalry in the Western movie," says Furano.