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Data scientist launching environmental storytelling app with access to global satellite images


Tucked among paleoanthropologists, ocean explorers, and astronauts, several of Silicon Valley’s emerging innovators will take the stage this week at the National Geographic Explorer’s Festival in Washington, D.C.

Among them is UC Berkeley-trained data scientist and San Francisco resident Dan Hammer. During a Friday panel on “The Power of Data-driven Storytelling,” he’ll announce a partnership between National Geographic, the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, and the nonprofit he co-founded, Earthrise Media.

In conjunction with the development of The Tech Museum’s new Center for Technology and Sustainability, the Bay Area startup plans to launch an educational app that will file large quantities of satellite imagery from companies such as DigitalGlobe into a database, where it can be picked through and analyzed by unlikely environmental watchdogs: high school students.

“The imagery is there, the satellites are up, the algorithms are done,” said Hammer. “It’s just about assembling it.”

Within the Earthrise Media Storytelling app, students are assigned an environmental issue — such as drought or deforestation — by their teacher. They’re then tasked with searching the database for images from across the globe that convey those environmental changes. Similar to an Instagram story – the students then string together a series of snapshots that highlight these changes. They can share it with their teacher, peers in their class, and across the platform, where it can be picked up by media organizations. Eventually, Hammer said, computer algorithms within the database will become trained to recognize hotspots of environmental degradation based on the stories the students create.

“If hundreds of thousands of kids are using or engaging with changes that occur on the earth’s surface, we can help teach the computer to find those (changes),” said Hammer. “We can start reporting from changes on the earth’s surface without ever having a human look at it.”

Throughout Hammer’s career, he’s sought the answer to a key question: “What is a good story that can be told from satellite imagery?”

This question is central to National Geographic’s mission, said Fabien Laurier, the vice president of National Geographic Labs, a branch of the organization that focuses on utilizing technological innovation to reframe Earth’s most challenging environmental issues.

First, Laurier said, National Geographic hopes to “accelerate people’s ability to understand and appreciate the planet, and feel a greater sense of responsibility for it.” Earthrise Media’s storytelling app, he continued, democratizes satellite imagery and remote sensing data, providing students with “a unique global context for stories that can happen at a very specific geographic scale.”

Gretchen Walker, The Tech Museum of Innovation’s Vice President of Education, said the museum is excited to partner with Earthrise Media and National Geographic because it aligns with their mission to increase sustainability messaging both in the museum and through classroom materials and professional development programs for educators across the Bay Area.

“The real connection for us is that we’re working really hard to inspire the next generation of Silicon Valley innovators to tackle problems like sustainability,” said Walker. “We’re big believers in the effective use of technology to solve problems, so …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business

      

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