Teri Webster

Plans are underway to launch a global network of 500 satellites that will stream “live and unfiltered video” of virtually everywhere on Earth in high definition.

The estimated $1 billion project is backed by Microsoft CEO and billionaire Bill Gates, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, aerospace monolith Airbus, and Greg Wyler, founder and executive chairman of OneWeb.

The amount the companies are investing was not disclosed, according to various published reports and an announcement about the project.

What are the details?

The massive “Big Brother” surveillance system is the brainchild of the startup EarthNow. The company’s motto is “Our Earth in real time, all the time.”

“EarthNow is ambitious and unprecedented, but our objective is simple; we want to connect you visually with Earth in real time,” said Russell Hannigan, EarthNow founder and CEO.

“We believe the ability to see and understand the Earth live and unfiltered will help all of us better appreciate and ultimately care for our one and only home.”

According to the announcement, “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined.”

Wyler said: “We created the world’s first low-cost, high-performance satellites for mass-production to bridge the digital divide. These very same satellite features will enable EarthNow to help humanity understand and manage its impact on Earth.”

Why do we need real time video of everywhere on Earth?

According to the investors, the system will be used for a range of noble causes, among them:

“Catching illegal fishing in the act, watching hurricanes and typhoons as they evolve, detecting forest fires the moment they start, watching volcanoes the instant they start to erupt, assisting the media in telling stories from around the world, tracking large whales as they migrate, helping ‘smart cities’ become more efficient, providing on-demand data about crop health, and observing conflict zones around the world.”

Is this a free public service?

“Initially, EarthNow will offer commercial video and intelligent vision services to a range of government and enterprise customers,” the company stated.

Once the satellites are up and running, the public will also have access to “compelling” live Earth video” through applications that are instantly accessible from a smartphone or tablet.

“We are excited by the prospect of giving everyone a stunningly-beautiful real-time window on your world from space. With EarthNow, we will all become virtual astronauts,” Hannigan said.

EarthNow is not disclosing its timetable for the project, according to its website.

“We are not disclosing our deployment schedule at this time, as the current phase of work is focused on the overall system design and associated project plan,” the website stated.

What about privacy concerns?

EarthNow’s website indicates that it plans to hire a “chief privacy officer” to address privacy concerns. The privacy officer will ensure the company meets privacy laws in various jurisdictions.

“We will work closely with governments and the public at large to address privacy concerns, while providing visual Earth coverage for the benefit of humanity and our planet,” its website stated.

The website also claims the imaging system will not allow the tracking of individuals.