2 May

Descartes Labs Spotlight

As satellite imagery becomes increasingly available, it’s important that we get access to the tools and platforms that help make sense of vast amounts data. Descartes Labs is leading this example by building a data refinery built on a cloud-based supercomputer for the application of machine intelligence to massive data sets. Their mission is to better understand the planet, for good and for-profit; providing the tools to find solutions across industries such as agriculture, government & defense, energy finance, forestry, insurance manufacturing, and transportation.  Descartes Labs, a spin-out of Los Alamos National Labs, is developing a data refinery that uses geospatial analytics and machine intelligence to help us better understand our earth. The founding team, largely comprised of LANL alumni, leveraged the developing technology to analyze and understand the massive sets of data received through public satellite imagery. While their earliest use cases were within the agriculture industry, the platform can be applied across an array of industries, including manufacturing and sustainability. By creating a data refinery, they’re able to find, monitor, and predict changes across the planet over time.


One of Descartes’ projects was to create an algorithm and dataset in order to monitor and answer questions regarding water availability in the future at a global scale. Identifying water in satellite images is difficult; depending on the light and its level of dirt or algae water can be any color besides blue and some things such as shadows can appear to be water but they are not. To learn more about Descartes’ process of creating a water mask/model and some of the results to their analysis, visit the link: goo.gl/jVNTND 

In the end, their model crunched more than 100 terabytes of satellite imagery across millions of machines in the Google cloud; peering into past images that date back to 1984 to the present; in order to see the dramatic changes to water bodies over time. This is their results:

To learn more about other projects Descartes worked on around natural disasters, the spread of disease and food scarcity and other features this company has to offer, visit their site at here.

Written by Samantha Sing