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Tracking ocean-going ships from space

I love this kind of stuff: a Canadian company tracks the global positions of ships – both freighters and cruise ships.

Since 2010, Cambridge, Ont.-based exactEarth Ltd. has been “mining” data about shipping traffic on Earth using satellites — a technique that could potentially be used to collect other, new kinds of valuable data.

“Until we started doing this…you had little bits of information, but you really didn’t have a complete domain awareness of what’s out there,” said Philip Miller, the company’s vice president of engineering and operations.

“Once a ship leaves the shore, essentially they’re a sovereign entity …. A captain can go where he wants. And from shore you didn’t know what was happening unless you contacted the ship and asked — whereas now we’re watching, and we know where they go.”

Here are some factoids from the article about this company:

  • detects 100,000 ships per day
  • sells info to 50 customers (including ports, navies and governments)
  • customers on 5 continents
  • company gets its data by detecting over five million messages a day from automatic identification system (AIS) signals that passenger ships and ships over 300 tonnes (Class A vessels) are required to send out under international law (used to reduce collisions, etc).

The data can be used for a wide variety of applications, such as:

  1. Identifying and tracking ship traffic through specific areas, such as the Arctic routes that are opening up as the sea ice melts
  2. Monitoring whether ships are following maritime traffic laws or straying into protected areas
  3. Detecting illegal fishing and piracy, or coordinating search-and-rescue operations during natural disasters.

There are other companies that do similar things. For example, here’s one in the US:

ExactEarth’s satellites aren’t the only AIS detectors in space — Rochelle Park, N.J.-based Orbcomm sells data subscriptions similar to ExactEarth’s and already has AIS satellites in both equatorial and polar orbit. Norway launched its AISSat-1 in 2010 and the German Aerospace Center DLR’s AISSat is scheduled to blast off on an Indian launcher later this year.


For more on this story, see the original article here: CBC News.

More stories about tech.

Photo credit: Guido Vrola – Fotolia.com

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