The Meraka Institute, a unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) which focuses on information and communication technology (ICT), is highlighting to government agencies, industry and other institutions the advances in earth observation (EO) technologies and the benefits these can bring.
“What we are doing is engaging with a range of stakeholders, from government to industry, to show them where the technology has evolved to and how it can be applied,” explains CSIR Meraka Institute competence area manager: EO and ICT Lee Annamalai. “We recently held a workshop to demonstrate a whole series of technologies that show how we’re able to create the next generation of EO applications by enhancing them with ICT and computer technology. Our radical innovation was to bring together engi- neers, computer scientists, software developers and traditional remote sensing and geographical information systems profes-sionals into one large team, and these demon-strations are the results of that merger.”
While South African public- and private-sector institutions are now familiar with what could be described as basic EO technologies and outputs, recent years have seen the launch of new satellites with much improved sensor technologies, and significantly more are planned to be launched in the next few years. In parallel, in situ sensing and computer-based remote sensing processing technologies have also seen important improvements. “What we are doing is showing how the technologies have advanced and have become automated – what you can do with the imagery without having to sit down and look at it all yourself,” he elucidates.
This progress opens the opportunity to integrate satellite data with data from surface-based sensor networks. “Integration provides the total picture,” he points out. “But how do you integrate the two [satellite and surface sensors]? We’re spending considerable time on the development of open standards-based interfaces for datasets to make access to them easy so that any system can pull in any data. We believe that open data has the ability to create a wider community of application developers and users.”
At the recent workshop, held at the Meraka facility in the CSIR complex in Pretoria, a number of technologies were demonstrated. These included technologies concerned with the analysis of large EO datasets, EO workflows, mobile applications for EO and a knowledge management ‘toolbox’. Three of the other technologies that were demonstrated focused on automated land cover change detection and classification and on a ‘viewer’ for climate change data. And there was the application of space-based synthetic aperture radar to maritime domain awareness (basically, detecting and tracking ships to enhance safety and counter illegal activities).
The Meraka Institute is the largest ICT research agency in South Africa, with more than 200 staff and students. The institute includes postgraduate students because one of its main functions is to develop skills and expertise. Its other primary missions are research and innovation.
It operates in the areas of cyberinfrastructure; EO and information technology; human language technologies; integrative systems, platforms and technologies; knowledge technologies; and networks and media. Within these areas, it seeks to fulfil a number of objectives. One of these is the research and development (R&D) of new technologies to allow easier access to and use of ICT and increasing ICT inclusion. Another is the R&D and transfer to the market of innovative ICT products, processes and services. A third is the R&D, construction and operation of world-class cyberinfrastructure in South Africa.
Finally, it also seeks to contribute to the skills and developments that are reshaping the country’s ICT “landscape”.
The institute is involved in EO because the unlocking of the copious amounts of information contained within the data supplied by EO satellites has been recognised as a major ICT challenge. The Meraka Institute is also heavily involved in educational and rural development projects. Further, it plays a key role in the development of the South African National Research Network, which, when finished, will link more than 200 research and university sites around the country with a high-speed network and connect this with similar networks abroad. (Phase 1, which connects 105 institutions, was completed in November last year.)