The world’s two most valuable companies strengthen spatial capabilities

By on 22 March, 2016


Tech giants Apple and Alphabet (Google), considered to be the world’s two most valuable companies, have both recently sought to strengthen their spatial data capture capabilities with strategic investments into new spatial technologies.

The ABC of satellite imagery

Alphabet, the parent company behind Google, has invested in spatial data capture by planning the launch of a constellation of Earth observation satellites for next-generation mapping and geospatial applications. Google has announced its Skybox Imaging group, a which provides commercial high-resolution Earth observation satellite imagery, high-definition video, and analytics services, was re-branded as Terra Bella and will oversee the ambitious new plans.

Founded in 2009, Skybox Imaging was acquired by Google in 2014 for $500 million after having raised a total of U.S. $91 million of private capital. The company launched its first satellite, SkySat-1, in November 2013, followed by SkySat-2 in July 2014.


The Terra Bella satellite design (Source:


“We are building an entirely new class of imaging satellites,” notes the brand new Terra Bella website. “We’ve developed a high-resolution, small satellite platform capable of rapid response, high-resolution imagery at a fraction of the cost of traditional imaging satellites.”

“We also use a two-dimensional sensor array with a proprietary image filter to capture a higher quality image by taking multiple frames per second and stitching them on the ground. This also gives us the ability to capture the first-ever commercial high-resolution video of Earth from a satellite.”


Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

On the other hand, Apple has recently shown an interest in surveying technology, with the establishment of a patent for a new LiDAR sensor.

The patent, entitled “3D depth point cloud from timing flight of 2D scanned light beam pulses”, specifies hardware and functional processes of a new type of LiDAR sensor. The Apple design uses a fixed mirror, a scanning mirror, a photodetector and a laser emitter.



Apple’s new LiDAR system (from AppleInsider)


According to the patent, Apple’s design will overcome current sensing techniques tendency to suffer from “excessive power consumption, limited x-y resolution, limited depth resolution or accuracy, limited frame rate, and long product development cycles.”

The patent is line with Apple’s efforts to ramp up their mapping services, and as has been suggested, to support the development of a possible autonomous ‘Apple Car’ or ‘iCar.’


Alphabet surpassed Apple as the most valuable company in the world in February 2016.

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