Fighting corruption from space
How can we fight theft and corruption? Director of Engineering and Technological Center "SKANEKS" Olga Gershenson believes that people's access to the databases of satellite images must be expanded. This is the goal of a new project of "SKANEKS" called "Space Patrol" that Olga talked about with "Pravda.Ru.'
Space images are no longer beautiful and exotic. Many of us have been long accustomed to them in our everyday life. A typical example is Google Earth whose photographs are used by scientists, travelers, representatives of construction companies, teachers, farmers, and housewives. Pictures taken from space are so firmly established in our lives that we often do not even imagine how people in the old days could do without them. This is the only way to quickly learn what is happening in your desired area of the planet.
However, many believe that this is not the limit. The director of engineering and technology center "SKANEKS," an expert in the field of space photography Olga Gershenson believes that people's access to databases of high resolution satellite images must be expanded. This would help us to cope with many evils of our life such as theft and corruption. This is precisely the goal of a new "SKANEKS" project called "Space Patrol." Olga talked about the project during a live broadcast from Pravda.Ru studio "How to use images from the outer space."
"Our company was founded 23 years ago, and now there are no more areas of life left where imagery from space is not used. For example, in 2005 a project of the Federal Forestry Agency to monitor illegal logging was initiated. Of course, looking at a picture we cannot say if it is legal or illegal logging, but we can provide the Federal Forestry Agency with information, and its staff would compare the pictures with the map of legal logging areas and establish whether logging was legal.
Or, there is an example of oil slicks monitoring on the water surface. We collected this information for the administration of the port of Novorossiysk, and now we are working on a similar project for "Lukoil." It is a shame that this program in our country is not implemented at the federal level as this would greatly help the environment. In Europe, for example, a similar program has been around for fifteen years, and their seas are clean. In Russia foreign ships passing maritime border of Russia unload their ballast water here because they know that it is not monitored. We can provide evidence that lately there has been an increase in such cases.
We have been talking for a long time about the need for regular pictures of large cities from space. This will allow for better monitoring of traffic jams, for example. In addition, in some cases it will help in the analysis of road accident because space pictures give a real picture of a situation. And, finally, information received from photos can be used for monitoring violations in protected areas and identification of illegal construction.
Unfortunately, information obtained through satellite imagery is not regularly updated in Russia. More or less systematically this information is updated on Moscow and other cities with the population over one million. This is being done thanks to "Yandex" that has been working on it since 2006. However, it is clear that the efforts of one company, even a large one, are not enough. It is a very expensive exercise. That is why we have been long appealing to the government asking to open public access to a constantly updated database of satellite images. It is time to realize that satellite imagery is for everyone and should not be exclusive and expensive
That is what led us to the creation of "Space Patrol" project. The development of hardware and software in the industry of satellite imagery has reached such a level that every student can work with these photographs or at least easily extract the required information. We believe that it is necessary to create open databases that can be used by all stakeholders, from school children to senior citizens.
For example, someone will see that in a photo there is a house that's not on the development plan of the area. Then they will dig deeper and find out that this area is protected, and construction there is banned. This would give them a reason to address the authorities and ask them to look into this situation. Most importantly, there will be evidence, a satellite image that cannot be forged because the database is open, and anyone can check out the original photo.
The "Space Patrol" project was created on the basis of a non-profit partnership "Transparent World" we created many years ago for environmental and educational projects. This partnership provides information requested by residents of different regions of Russia, from Moscow region to Primorye. This information has helped many people. For example, recently a group from Krasnogorsk district of Moscow region using satellite imagery was able to stop the illegal construction of a high-rise building on the territory of a buried lake. That is, the construction was stopped in the water protection zone. We believe that this is a significant victory for "Transparent World" as it proves that the residents of our country really need "Space Patrol" project.
A visual model of "Space Patrol" has not been created yet, and most likely, it will be a website where space information is promptly updated. In addition, anyone visiting this site will find step by step instructions for extracting information from satellite images. First, the user must enter a query, for example, "I'm interested in the state of forests near Moscow." The user will be immediately granted access to the detailed instructions explaining how they can keep track of various offenses.
There is an idea to give each active participant of the project a certain part of the earth surface they would monitor. This idea under the code name "Adopt a pixel" will not only help to tackle corruption, violations of law and other negative phenomena in our lives, but would also restore people's interest in science, in particular, geography. As you can see, "Space Patrol" has an educational component. This method of studying geography is more interesting than learning it from textbooks and atlases. We hope that the Russian Geographical Society and twenty-seven universities of Russia that have space monitoring centers will participate in the project. We hope that these organizations will be able to help the project to gain supporters in their regions.
Another benefit of such "adoption" is that people monitoring a particular location will be able to deliver timely information to everyone about the changes that have occurred in the area, for example, a new road junction undergoing maintenance, or a traffic jam. In addition, each participant will be able to formulate their own mission and offer it to the project coordinators because now we cannot imagine everything that can be extracted from satellite images. This project also provides for a user feedback.
As you can see, Russia really needs this project. Nothing can be hidden from satellites cameras, and the Russians will be able to maintain order in the areas where they live. Some would wonder whether "Space Patrol" can harm the security of our country. I can answer right away - in no way. The information from space has long been available on the Internet, and everyone can extract it from there. The fact is that the territory of Russia every day is photographed by a number of foreign satellites, and there is no way to prohibit them from doing it.
These photos get into foreign databases, many of which are open. A hypothetical spy could quite easily get any shot without "Space Patrol" although not always for free. They are unlikely to use free databases because they could be easily tracked down.
There is no reason to fear "Space Patrol," on the contrary, it should be welcomed as an initiative that will help Russians to become true masters of their country. Furthermore, constant monitoring happening in a particular area will help all of us to regain a sense of responsibility for our land that we lost with the collapse of the USSR"