Indrek Mäe, Invest in Estonia, Nov 2021
The e-service Sille.space, developed by the Estonian software company AS Datel, operates in space to prevent hidden damages caused by underground digging, faulty constructions, or natural disasters.
The task of the service Sille is easy to detect the sinking or rising of buildings. “The early prevention system based on the European Union’s satellite Sentinel-1 can detect the subsiding or rising of big infrastructural objects such as bridges, airfields, mining areas, and large buildings,” Oliver Stimmer, the Head of Space Domain at Datel, confirmed.
The demand for Sille’s detection systems is international and Stimmer says that is it is especially important to monitor critical infrastructure in areas that regularly experience storms, floods, or earthquakes. “Sille can detect the displacement of infrastructure starting from 1 mm,” Stimmer explained. “This allows us to pinpoint their vulnerabilities without someone having to go to check the situation on-site.”
Prevents big costs
“Some of the situations it can prevent the subsidence of hydroelectric dams, mining areas and houses above tunnels as well as the displacement of large bridges,” he said, explaining that the monitoring of subsidence on-site is very costly on large areas of land.
Stimmer explains as an example that dams collapse every year around the world, resulting in deaths and causing environmental damage. But many of these damages could be prevented with the help of Sille. “In many cases, the dams began to sink before the accident, which gives a clear indication that the dam is problematic and needs maintenance,” he explained. “Sille’s monitoring can give an early warning about the subsidence which allows us to do the necessary repair works in time to prevent catastrophe.”
Stimmer also mentions an example of a new metro line built in Saint Petersburg above which the houses began to subside. “If Saint Petersburg used our Sille service, they would have received monthly data on the subsidence of their buildings and they could have prevented most of the damages,” he states.
Stimmer added that a huge field Sille contributes to is ensuring the reliability of nuclear facilities. “This is very important to us all,” he said.
Stimmer believes that one of Sille’s strengths is that clients can immediately begin to use the service. “The process looks like this: the client tells us which object or area they wish to monitor. We process and analyze the satellite data. These data volumes are in terabytes and then we make it accessible to the client via Sille’s web app,” he explained. “The client doesn’t need any specific knowledge to understand the results. Areas, where subsidence is occurring, are displayed on a map and if you open the graph view, you can see how much the land is subsiding in a specific spot.”
Consistent innovation in cooperation with the European Space Agency
Besides AS Datel specialists, the scientists of the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as Estonian and international universities, were involved in the development of Sille. “Our cooperation with the European Space Agency has been long-term and multifaceted,” Stimmer said. “The most important aspect in terms of Sille is that we use the satellite data of the European Space Agency. But our space team also participates in other ESA projects.” He emphasized that the wide-ranging international involvement helps with the constant development of their knowledge.
He brought an example of Datel’s engineers helping to choose the suitable technologies for keeping and archiving the collected data in the Solar Orbiter project that studies the Sun. “The contribution of our engineers ensured that the research community could reach new discoveries based on the massive amounts of data received in the global space project,” he said.
Behind the scenes, they are constantly working on increasing their capabilities. “We have been trying to figure out how we can analyze various objects as fast as possible,” Stimmer said. “By today, we have conducted over 3000 analyses. We have managed to increase our capacity manyfold and can conduct multiple analyses in a month.”
Getting illegal construction under control
Besides all this, they are soon planning to develop a new service that would benefit local governments. “We want to develop the capacity to receive overviews of regional construction activities based on satellite data,” Stimmer said about their future plans.
He believes that the clients for this development will mainly be local governments. “Local governments will be able to use our new service to detect possible illegal construction activity sites without leaving their desks.”
Stimmer noted that visualizing real buildings will help to improve infrastructure planning.
Clients with larger revenue than the Estonian state budget
Stimmer is especially proud of Datel’s clients. “We have companies whose yearly revenue is higher than the Estonian state budget,” he noted. “Unfortunately, I cannot share their names due to our contracts. In the public sector, we have analyzed dozens of large structures in the state of Maryland, USA, as well as in the city of Annapolis (USA) and Montgomery County (USA). Sille was used to observe the possible displacements of highways in Nagoya, Japan, and to identify ground changes in the construction of the railway tunnel between Oslo and Ski in Norway.”
In Estonia, analyses have been conducted in Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve with the help of Sille. “We get more clients every year,” Stimmer concluded.
Andres Sutt, the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology said at a recent ministerial meeting of the European Space Agency that in the coming years a new Estonian unicorn would probably be born from the growing space industry. Read further here.