Alumni Crowdsourcing Venture Acquired by Satellite Imaging Co.
Every day, satellites take high-resolution pictures of the Earth. But it is almost impossible for humans to review these billions of pixels of information. Enter Tomnod, a start-up co-founded by four alumni of the Jacobs School of Engineering who have harnessed crowdsourcing to sort through all these pixels. Their company was recently acquired by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, a leading supplier of commercial satellite imagery.
The best applications for the technology are search and rescue operations during natural disasters. Tomnod has launched crowdsourcing campaigns to examine satellite images of the damage from the tornado that ripped through Oklahoma on May 20 and from Hurricane Sandy last year, among others.
"This really goes with the nature of crowdsourcing," said co-founder Luke Barrington, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Jacobs School. "People want to have an impact. They want to help."
Tomnod, which means big eye in Mongolian, uses sophisticated machine learning algorithms to analyze images tagged by human users and determine which ones are the most likely to include useful information. "At first, we tried to extract the information with machine learning only," said Barrington. "But there was just too much to process."
Barrington met with fellow Tomnod co-founders Albert Lin, Nate Ricklin and Shay Har-Noy when they were engineering Ph.D. students working on the same floor at Calit2, now the Qualcomm Institue. The approach Tomnod uses was originally designed for the Valley of the Khans Project, an effort led by Lin, supported by the National Geographic Society and aimed at finding the tomb of Genghis Khan in Mongolia. With the success of that project, they decided to see what else their approach could be applied to.
Tomnod benefited from the support of EvoNexus, a start-up incubator in San Diego, which provided mentorship and facilities. "We were all working from home and were homeless in a way, when they arrived and helped us out," Barrington said.
After it was acquired by DigitalGlobe, Tomnod became an independent division within that company.
"At DigitalGlobe, we can keep pursuing our vision of crowdsourcing the world," Har-Noy said.
A map of the damage caused by a tornado that ripped through Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. Tomnod users flagged damaged buildings, downed trees and blue tarp-covered roofs. Visit tomnod.com to crowdsource the world with Tomnod and DigitalGlobe.
Computer Science Startup LonoCloud Acquired by ViaSat
Satellite communications company ViaSat has acquired LonoCloud, co-founded by Ingolf Krueger, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Jacobs School with an adjunct appointment at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management. LonoCloud has developed an innovative, cloud-based service platform to support the "Internet of Things."
"We are very excited to join ViaSat, which will allow us to continue building out our technology, while joining forces with an innovator in the field of satellite and other digital communication products," said Krueger.
LonoCloud's software system contains sophisticated, distributed mesh algorithms that create a network foundation for enterprise services and applications to interact and communicate with one another – the "service fabric." This next-generation cloud computing architecture runs as an overlay to enterprise network environments, enabling low-cost, distributed computing across multiple servers in the cloud.
The service fabric provides real-time software updates for minimal operational disruption and downtime, as well as policy-driven scalability and dynamic configuration. Providing these capabilities as building blocks to distributed applications is key to high availability and resiliency at a global scale.