Imagine making an investment decision based on intelligence gathered from a satellite or drone image. James Crawford is betting people will do exactly that.
The founder and CEO of Orbital Images saw an untapped potential in the increase of surveillance hardware and decided to create software to analyze the images.
With the world of drones on the rise—federal regulators expect the industry to expand into a $90 billion business, compared to an estimated $720 million in sales last year—Orbital's goal is to capture global socioeconomic trends and sell it to hedge funds, real estate developers and other organizations.
"The really exciting thing about today's world and about what's going on in satellite imagery is that more and more satellites are being launched," Crawford told CNBC's "Closing Bell" in a recent interview. His company has "processed as many as a million images of parking lots. From that volume of imagery we can actually learn a great deal," he said.
What those parking lots tell him, for example, is how many cars are outside retail shops.
"We can actually track retail traffic in 60 major retailers and see whether or not it's up or down compared to past years," Crawford said. "That's one of the single most important things for retailers—how many people are coming in the door."
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The start-up has also measured the rate of construction in China and the fluctuations in global crude oil inventories as well as forecast the end-of-season crop harvest.