They say necessity is mother of innovation, and it’s true. We’ll often see innovation created (or at least repurposed) in the face of tragedy. Reddit became a news source during the Aurora shooting and storm-tracking drones were created in the wake of the Oklahoma City tornado. DigitalGlobe is harnessing the power of crowdsourcing in the face of another tragedy.
Malaysia Air Flight 370, a Boeing 777 jet, has been missing since this past Saturday. It was en route from Malaysia to Beijing when ground contorllers completely lost contact with the plane, which never reached its destination. In the intervening few days, experts have found very little evidence of where, why, or how the plane disappeared. Save for a couple of large oil slicks, a potential sighting hundreds of miles off course, and speculation on whether or not the plane was a victim of terrorism, nothing is known.
We live in a digital age, and the plane was equipped with an awful lot of tracking equipment, making its sudden disappearance fairly unprecedented. That digital age is also equipped with satellites and the constant imagery accompanying them. And, as described on its website, "DigitalGlobe owns and operates the most agile and sophisticated constellation of commercial earth imaging satellites in the world." The company is using that information to let everyday people search for the missing Flight 370. Through a Tomnod platform, you can search through satellite imagery for any evidence of where the missing plane might be.
Two DigitalGlobe satellites collected imagery of about 300 square miles of the area where the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea meet, which is where the plane is suspected to have crashed. While this information was also available to first responders and those involved with the official search, it constitutes a massive amount of data. Allowing the likes of you and me to search through it will only mean a more robust and thorough response. Within 24 hours, thousands of volunteers sorted through images and noted more than 60,000 different “objects of interest” within all that imagery.
There’s no telling that this will actually help us find the missing aircraft, but every fresh set of eyes means another chance at seeing something that’s been glossed over. Crowdsourcing isn’t a new phenomenon, nor is people coming together to help others. Combining the two, though, is both uplifting and innovating, even if the necessity driving it is tragic.