On a corner of Tokyo’s Kiyosumi Shirakawa, a traditional shopping street dotted with fashionable cafes and general shops, a cutting-edge satellite data solutions service that uses SAR (synthetic aperture radar) satellites and AI was being developed. That company is now Synspective, deriving its name from “Synthetic Data for Perspective on Sustainable Development.”
Today, over 100 members spanning 21 countries are working together and are invested in Synspective’s mission to realize a “learning world” that expands human capabilities and makes steady progress through new data and technology.
■Contributing to society through technology
The ImPACT program, an initiative led by Japan’s Cabinet Office, started in 2015 to create disruptive innovation by integrating the very best of R&D capabilities. The program developed the underlying technology for small SAR satellites, which are among the best in the world in size and weight reduction and offer similar performance to larger SAR satellites.
Professor Seiko Shirakasa of Keio University was one of the Program Managers in the program, having worked on the development of small SAR satellites. He began thinking about how to integrate the novel technology in society. “In order to provide the SAR satellite research results with society,” he said, “it would be faster if the private sector worked on it as a business. And the best way to do that is through a venture company that is agile.”
Shirasaka quickly moved to establish a company and began searching for a candidate to be the CEO of his newly launched venture. He knew exactly what kind of person he was looking for to fill the role. “The CEO of this company should be someone who understands business, has a good understanding of technology, and can coordinate with the government.”
Six months passed without having found the perfect candidate that fit the criteria. That changed when he met Motoyuki Arai. Introduced through an acquaintance, he began to learn more about Motoyuki and soon realized that he would be the right candidate for the role.
■Are small SAR satellites a viable business?
The two men passionately discussed the promise of small SAR satellites. However, the initial interview process didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated and Motoyuki was, at first, uninterested in becoming the CEO. “I couldn’t figure out what to do to make sales using this satellite,” he recalled saying at the time.
After careful reflection, it became clear to him that he could take his ideas off the ground and leverage the novel satellite’s market potential. “Rather than thinking of satellites as satellites,” he said, “we should think of them as sensors in orbit that provide data, and if we can come up with solutions using that data, we can make a business out of it. It’s in line with what’s going on in the world, and I’ve got some concrete ideas for applications.”
■ Creating a data-driven and sustainable future
Motoyuki has been involved in various social enterprises around the world, mainly in developing countries. He realized the importance of using accurate data, planning, and monitoring in the field, and has always believed that the world will not become a place of steady progress unless operations are data-driven.
When he was involved in a project in Tanzania, he visited every local storefront. He found out that what distinguished the businesses that were thriving was their bookkeeping, which allowed them to plan for the unforeseeable future. “We will need money next year, so we should prepare for it,” or, “We should stock more goods in the summer because they will sell well. By accumulating and understanding data and gaining an outlook to the future, the time axis for thinking about business and life can be extended from tomorrow, to a month, or a year from now.”
Small SAR satellites, which support comprehensive wide-area imaging and data, will play a major role in achieving a sustainable future. SAR satellite data can also be combined with other data to strengthen dataflows, analytics, and solutions.
■Synspective was founded on February 22, 2018
By using and learning from unprecedented data and technology, we can realize a “learning world” where steady progress is made. Looking ahead to a not-too-distant future, Seiko Shirakasa and Motoyuki Arai founded Synspective on February 22, 2018.
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