Remember what GPS looked like in the late '90s? The Global Positioning System was a strategic asset controlled by the US government, which limited spatial resolution available to civilians.
Starting in late 2012, the 55-person company based in Mountain View, California, will launch a private constellation designed to deliver orbital photos as a service: Just log in, enter a credit card number, and grab a timely shot of any spot on Earth. Unlike Google, Bing, or MapQuest, Skybox images will be updated every eight hours. (There are indications that the company’s plans are more ambitious: one-hour temporal resolution, video, and the ability to specify a path, although Wegel didn’t mention these capabilities when we spoke.) The company views its system as a platform, like an iPhone, on which developers can build next-gen commercial and consumer applications. “You’ll be able to build apps for monitoring oil and gas pipelines,” Wegel says, “or for financial trading, where they’re starting use imagery to predict stock prices.”