Azavea Awarded Research Grants to Build Web Tools for Managing and Modeling with Earth Observation Data

Azavea Awarded Research Grants to Build Web Tools for Managing and Modeling with Earth Observation Data

Philadelphia, PA, August 19, 2015 – Azavea was awarded two Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants; one from the U.S. Department of Energy and one from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  $155,000 from U.S. Department of Energy will enable the development of the Raster Foundry, a re-usable cloud-based platform for high-resolution imagery management and distributed computation.  NASA’s funding of $125,000 will enable the development of ModelLab, an online tool to build, store, and execute complex geospatial models.

Why is this important?  Advances in small satellite, drone, and sensor technology are revolutionizing the Earth observation industry.  As a result, high-resolution raster imagery is being generated in greater amounts and at higher resolutions, providing the potential for real-time monitoring of both global and local change.  Many contemporary human challenges, including climate change, water quality and availability, watershed management, biodiversity loss, urban sprawl, energy needs, and human health, cannot be effectively understood or resolved without the kind of ongoing global monitoring these instruments can provide.  But the development of tools for storing and processing and burgeoning volumes of imagery, elevation, and other raster data presents significant technical challenges.

The Raster Foundry will address these challenges by combining advanced user interface design and distributed computing techniques in an affordable, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that can rapidly process imagery data sets and help users derive the intelligence necessary to support an array of decision-making activities.  An intuitive user workflow will walk them through the process of uploading, mosaicking, merging, re-projecting, displaying, and storing Earth observation data from both satellite and aerial cameras.  They will also have the option of exporting their data for use in other applications.

Leveraging NASA and other Earth observation data sources, ModelLab will enable the design, storage, and execution of geospatial models and algorithms.  These geospatial models can, for instance, be used for precision agriculture, to simulate flow patterns of tsunamis and floods, to forecast crime or seismic risk, to determine lines-of-sight for cell tower siting, to interpolate among field observations, to compare coastal erosion patterns over time, and to monitor the impact of forest fragmentation, among countless other applications.  These types of geospatial modeling capabilities have been accessible to trained geospatial analysis professionals for many years, but ModelLab aims to make them available to non-technical users in a broad range of public and private sector positions.   A Model Gallery will be initially populated with geospatial models prepared by members of Azavea’s research team.  In particular, it will include modeling “recipes” prepared by Dr. C. Dana Tomlin, originator of Map Algebra.  Public models in this initial prototype will be freely available for download and use in external applications through a Creative Commons or similar open license and will be searchable by keyword and topic.

At the core of both applications, is GeoTrellis, Azavea’s open source high performance geoprocessing engine.  Based on the Scala language and the Spark framework, GeoTrellis provides the ability to rapidly process geospatial data by distributing the processing across computing clusters.  The goal of the framework is to transform user interaction with geospatial data by bringing the power of geospatial analysis to real-time, interactive web and mobile applications.

“We expect micro-satellite constellations and drones to both drive down the cost and dramatically increase the amount visible and multispectral imagery.  This pair of prototyping grants from NASA and the Department of Energy will leverage our ongoing investment in GeoTrellis and position Azavea to contribute to a revolution in Earth observation data that we believe will benefit communities around the world” said Robert Cheetham, Azavea President and CEO.

The development of the ModelLab project is supported by the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, Award Number NNX15CS06P.  The Raster Foundry project is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy SBIR program, Award Number DE-SC0013134


About Azavea – Azavea is a certified B Corporation that applies geographic data and technology for civic and social impact while advancing the state-of-the-art through research.  Find out more at

 If you would like more information about Azavea or to schedule an interview with Robert Cheetham, Azavea CEO and President, please contact Karissa Justice at (215) 558-6184 or e-mail