Indian startup uses AI tech & satellite data to tackle stubble burning pollution, wins ESA 'Space Oscar'

New Delhi: A Gurgaon-based startup working in utilizing satellite data to solve environmental problems has won an international prize for its AI based tool to measure and monitor farm fires and stubble burning across India.

Millions of tonnes of crop residue are burnt on farms to clear them for new crops every winter in North India, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases which cause peak pollution levels in Delhi and elsewhere. Stubble burning is also a major problem in other parts of the country. Efforts to utilize crop waste for power generation and other applications are hampered due to a lack of data about availability and quality of the waste.

The application developed by Gurgaon-based startup Blue Sky Analytics is an AI-enabled platform that uses satellite data for improved monitoring, supply chain and pricing analysis, as well as allocation of crop waste for use in other industries as raw material.

The application, Zuri, last week won the Copernicus Masters award given by the Earth observation program managed by the European Commission in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), also dubbed as ‘Space Oscars’. Seven groups got the prize in different categories, and Zuri was selected under the social entrepreneurship category. Since 2011, over 100 space application have been awarded and many of them have been launched in the market.

Zuri utilizes historical data on fire counts to understand the history of farm fires in every district and state, and can predict high-risk zones as well as expected volume and calorific value of crop waste. It also includes information on marketplaces to enable farmers to sell stubble rather than burn it.

ESA, under its Copernicus earth observation satellite program, provides free access to satellite data and new operational services to anyone interested in developing new applications. The program launches and manages Sentinel satellites that provide high spectral imaging for land, ocean, and atmospheric monitoring.

Blue Sky Analytics has already been analyzing large volumes of Copernicus data. “We are nerds at heart, so the Space Oscar is more real to us than real Oscars,” said Abhilasha Purwar and Kshitij Purwar, siblings who founded the Blue Sky Analytics a year ago. Abhilasha is an engineering graduate from IIT-BHU and with master’s in environment management from Yale, while Kshitij is a college dropout.

Abhilasha said while there were many upstream players like Planet, Maxar, and Airbus launching satellite constellations, Indian startups had an advantage in downstream value propositions in geospatial data intelligence as “we have some of the best tech and data talent pools.”

“With Zuri’s closed system, it will be possible to find stubble and allow energy companies to buy it and use it. That is immense as it solves the carbon challenge and creates cleaner energy and income for farmers. We believe that this idea really can make a difference, and also make a solid, sustainable business,” observed Steve Lee, CEO, Astrosat, who presented the award to the Purwars.

Dinesh Sharma is the Managing Editor of India Science Wire.

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