Space startup EarthNow raises undisclosed amount from Bill Gates, SoftBank, and others


Imagine that with just a couple of taps on your smartphone or tablet, you’re able to instantly get a live stream of any location on Earth and watch events unfolding there in real time. Sounds like the stuff of science fiction? Well, that’s exactly what EarthNow is aiming to deliver. EarthNow is a new startup that has spun out of the ISF Incubator at Intellectual Ventures, “a global invention and investment business that creates, incubates and commercializes impactful inventions”. Using a global network of satellites, EarthNow aims to “deploy a large constellation of advanced imaging satellites that will deliver real-time, continuous video and intelligent vision of almost anywhere on Earth”.

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In a press release published on April 18, EarthNow announced that it had closed its first round of funding, raising an undisclosed amount from investors including Bill Gates, Airbus, the SoftBank Group, and Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb, a pioneer in the field of using satellites for internet delivery and video monitoring. In a statement, Russell Hannigan, Founder and CEO of EarthNow, said, “EarthNow is ambitious and unprecedented, but our objective is simple; we want to connect you visually with Earth in real-time. We believe the ability to see and understand the Earth live and unfiltered will help all of us better appreciate and ultimately care for our one and only home.”

As per the company, EarthNow will use an upgraded version of the satellite platform developed for OneWeb. The company’s technology will be able to stream images and videos from Earth in real-time to viewers, as opposed to existing platforms like Google Earth that are only able to show images and videos minutes, hours, and even days after recording. The satellites will be mass-produced by Airbus in Toulouse and Florida; however, EarthNow declined to give a specific timeline for its project and the launch of its satellites.

According to the company’s press release, EarthNow will offer “commercial video and intelligent vision services” to government and enterprise customers. The company states that its system has the potential for a huge variety of applications, including “catching illegal fishing in the act, watching hurricanes and typhoons as they evolve, detecting forest fires the moment they start, watching volcanoes the instant they start to erupt, assisting the media in telling stories from around the world, tracking large whales as they migrate, helping ‘smart cities’ become more efficient, providing on-demand data about crop health, and observing conflict zones around the world.”

There are, of course, concerns about the potential misuse of what is essentially a global video monitoring network. As LiveScience points out, this has the potential to become a massive global surveillance network, and given EarthNow’s plans to sell its services to governments, there are plenty of concerns about privacy at stake here. The company will be hard-pressed to guarantee that its offerings won’t constitute a grave breach of privacy protection policies, especially in a world where questions about individual privacy are rapidly taking centre stage following the fallout from incidents like the Cambridge Analytica episode.

However, Russell opts for a more utopian outlook on his company’s potential. In his press release, he states, “We are excited by the prospect of giving everyone a stunningly-beautiful real-time window on your world from space. With EarthNow, we will all become virtual astronauts.” Will EarthNow then bring about a new age of stability backed by real-time global video monitoring, or will it turn into the precursor of Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984? We will have to wait and watch.