SXSW 2014: Deriving Value from Image Data

What’s a picture worth? Premise and Skybox discussed how their approaches to image capture are creating value during the panel “Shelves to Space: What Images Say about Our World.”

Premise catalogues images on a micro-level: it arms its global team of 1100+ members with smartphones and sends them specific photo requests, like storefronts or types of produce. Individually mundane, these images can reveal valuable insights when aggregated, from whether a product is available to health concerns. Deviation from the mean can flag governments or NGOs to potential problems, like food shortages, before it’s too late. And Premise isn’t stopping at one-way communication: ultimately, its goal is to provide value to its contributors by giving them information they can act on at a local level, similar to Waze.

Skybox, on the other hand, is truly focused on the big pictures: it builds and launches satellites to take photographs that “index the Earth,” which are then stored and analyzed in their database. As a result, everything from ship movements to oil supplies to humanitarian crises can be monitored from above. And unlike Google Earth, which tends to update every 36 months, each of the 24 satellites pass over a given area eight times a day, giving users like commodities traders and insurance companies the most current information with which to make decisions.

While their methodologies are vastly different, both Premise and Skybox show how images can be turned into data at scale, which can then drive decisions on a macro level. As cameras proliferate and image recognition technology improves, we can only expect that pictures will play a larger role in companies’ strategies.