Laboratory in the Sky: Blue Water Satellite Uses Satellites to Spot Contaminants

Written by Kevin Volz.

In late summer 2014, people in Toledo, Ohio were faced with a harsh reality.  Because of an algae buildup in Lake Erie, they could not drink their tap water for days. The algae could have caused health issues like headaches and vomiting if ingested, and treating the lake fast became a top priority for the city. Within a few days the water was safe to drink, but with more advanced technology, this issue could have been identified and prevented before it ever reached dangerous levels.

The current process of checking for contaminants like the algae in Lake Erie is expensive and time-consuming. It involves taking samples by hand and analyzing them in a lab. Even once the samples are completely analyzed, they cannot be applied to the entire land mass or body of water. Toledo based Blue Water Satellite is working on a high tech solution that may soon make this type of manual sampling obsolete, and provide a way to prevent contaminant problems like the one in Toledo in the future.

Using satellite imagery, the company can analyze large bodies of water or plots of land and determine the exact contaminants present in the area. This helps their clients identify specific areas that need to be decontaminated, potentially saving significant amounts of time and money. This also makes early identification of contamination easier, allowing for more effective prevention strategies to keep the contaminants from spreading. Blue Water Satellite’s primary clients include remediation companies, environmental engineering agencies and government offices at the local, state and national levels.

“This type of technology has been needed for a long time, but no one was providing it,” said Milt Baker, CEO of Blue Water Satellite. “Using small samples has created a huge knowledge gap, because you can’t take that information and say the whole land mass or body of water is contaminated. Our technology is transforming the contaminant industry.”

While the satellite imaging used by Blue Water Satellite was already in place when the company was started, their proprietary technology allows them to identify contaminant information from existing images. The company can go back as far back as 1984 and use satellite images to show the progression of contaminants over time – something that is impossible to do by analyzing small samples of land or water.

“The sample method currently used in land and water resource monitoring will soon be obsolete,” said Baker. “No one will check for contaminants that way in the future. Using satellites, we can actually tell you how high your rates of contamination are on a larger scale.”

At the end of 2014, Blue Water Satellite began a partnership that will integrate the company’s data and technology into Google Earth and Google Maps. The two companies are currently in the process of tailoring the Google software so that it can process the satellite contaminant data. In the future, this will allow for Blue Water Satellite’s data to be rendered on its clients’ laptops and mobile devices using Google Earth.

“We’re really excited to work with Google,” said Baker. “Partnering with them will allow people to access our data with the click of a button.”

Blue Water Satellite’s offices are located at LaunchPad Incubation at the University of Toledo, an incubator in northwest Ohio and regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. The LaunchPad facility has the high-power internet speed that Blue Water Satellite needs to run its software, combined with the low-cost rent, a big plus for startups. The incubator also helped the company secure grant funding for their computer assets.

“The LaunchPad team does an outstanding job of orchestrating a facility that works for startups,” said Baker.  “They tailor the program to each company’s needs, all at a rate that is affordable. I appreciate being able to talk to, learn from and collaborate with other entrepreneurs every day.”

Blue Water Satellite has doubled in sales every year since it was founded, and Baker hopes that in 2015 they can triple those sales and add 12 new employees. Baker said that much of his company’s success has been thanks to Ohio’s higher learning institutions and the resources they provide.

“We developed a lot of our initial technology at Bowling Green State University and then utilized satellite imaging expertise from the University of Toledo,” said Baker. “Having access to the state’s universities is the biggest benefit to starting a company in Ohio.”

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