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Business

Japan eyes free satellite imaging data for businesses

Once-costly images could aid harvest forecasts, logistics

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a number of bodies including government ministries will offer companies free, preanalyzed images of Earth.

TOKYO -- Japan looks to offer companies free access to troves of satellite images starting in fiscal 2018, aiming to help with tasks such as inspecting infrastructure remotely and forecasting crop harvests.

The move will be announced Friday in a report on usage of the data from an expert panel including members of the nation's economic and science ministries, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology -- known as AIST -- as well as information technology businesses and university research bodies.

The images were captured by the Daichi earth-observation satellite, designed to help the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan -- part of the land ministry -- make maps and track disasters.

JAXA is in possession of a large volume of satellite imagery. A single image often costs private enterprises several thousand yen, or tens of dollars, to use. Businesses largely shy away from doing so, as the amount of data they need can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the analysis requires specialized software or expert knowledge.

AIST will develop a method for using artificial intelligence to analyze the voluminous data, letting businesses that sign up obtain the material preprocessed from a dedicated website.

The economy ministry hopes combining imagery taken at various angles by special cameras will draw interest from a range of fields. For example, agricultural companies could use infrared and other types of imaging to study crop characteristics invisible to the naked eye, like sugar content and protein volume. This would help pinpoint the optimal time to harvest.

Construction companies and others could tap the images for remote management of infrastructure, performing maintenance checks more efficiently on structures such as bridges and tunnels that are difficult for people to enter. Oil trading companies might streamline distribution, using photos from multiple angles of tanks with movable roofs to check how much fluid remains in the receptacles around the globe.

Easing access to the satellite data is part of the economy ministry's "connected industries" plan to spur technological innovation by enticing businesses in different sectors to partner and share information as well as production equipment. Companies could improve productivity and enter a wider range of related businesses, eventually exporting business models to the rest of Asia and elsewhere.

Japan's myriad satellites include positioning and meteorological trackers. Launches typically have been costly, so JAXA has handled them. But private companies have developed lower-cost satellites recently, and related industries are expected to grow.

(Nikkei)

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