Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Big Data is Big Business

Is there an app for that?  

Big data is big business, with the British government estimating that it will have created 58,000 new jobs and added £216 billion to the UK economy by 2017. The UK has vast data sets that are open for public use, generated through world-class research activity and data-intensive public sector organisations. Research has shown that allowing unfettered access is likely to stimulate novel uses of the data, resulting in the emergence of many new companies selling new services.

Big data is defined by its three challenging characteristics – volume, velocity and variety. In general it is not public demand that drives computing advances, but the requirements of researchers to collect, store and manipulate increasingly large and complex datasets. Big science projects such as those supported by STFC have consistently pushed the boundaries of data volumes and complexity, serving as ‘stretch goals’ that drive technical innovation.

Earlier this month ESA launched the Sentinel 1a satellite on behalf of the EU. Sentinel 1a is the first satellite in the planned Copernicus programme, which aims to build the most comprehensive Earth-observation system in the world. Sentinel 1a’s task is radar mapping, and its key role is to provide rapid damage maps to help the emergency services deal with disasters such as earthquakes and severe floods. It will also be able to monitor coastal waters for oil spills (or icebergs) and investigate subsidence.

The amount of new data Sentinel 1a produces will be prodigious – 600 gigabytes per orbit, or about 2.5 terabytes every day. When the full complement of Sentinel satellites is in place, that figure is expected to rise to 8 terabytes per day. Dealing with this amount of data has required considerable investment in computer processing power and storage on the ground, but the aim of Sentinel is that it will be able to return data to Earth much faster than existing satellites, which store data to be sent down when they pass over a ground station. The European Data Relay System will use lasers to transmit data within minutes, rather than hours, meaning that Sentinel 1a could be used for flood prediction as well as flood monitoring.

With five more launches planned by 2019, Copernicus will have many uses, including climate studies and monitoring fish stocks, air quality and waste disposal. All of Copernicus’ data will be open, and freely available. It’s hard to imagine the range of applications it could be used for, but it is anticipated that the Copernicus programme will give rise to around 48,000 jobs by 2030. The vision is for Copernicus to be an open-ended programme, with satellites being replaced as they reach the end of their lifespan and more Sentinel series to come.

The Sentinel 2 series will add high-resolution optical images of Earth to the data set, and the Sentinel 3 mission will include the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR), an instrument capable of making highly accurate measurements of global surface temperatures. RAL Space is playing a key role in the design process for the SLSTR, and will build a dedicated facility for pre-flight calibration activities. Sentinel 4 and 5 will be dedicated to atmospheric monitoring.

The Copernicus programme is just one source of data among many, and the UK government and research community are committed to making these big datasets available for the benefit of our society and economy. The Big Innovation Centre and STFC are running a free, one-day event that aims to remove the barriers for companies to access this open data and reveals how to extract value and insight for the benefit of your company, whatever its size or business sectors.

The ‘UK Big Data: free and open data available for businesses’ event is taking place on Tuesday 6th May at Harwell, Oxford. By the end of the day you will be equipped with expert guidance on how to take advantage of the data sets on offer, as well as introduced to enabling funding schemes and organisations that can help you to take raw data and make it into something valuable. There will be presentations from the UK’s Research Councils, the Public Data Group companies, the Technology Strategy Board and the Connected Digital Economy Catapult. The event also includes a panel session and networking lunch, providing an opportunity to discuss your needs, potential projects or collaborations with peers and experts.

Click through to find out more and information and register your free place via Eventbrite; registration closes on 1st May 2014.

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