High-Resolution Stratospheric Imagery Using Weather Balloons with Rema Matevosyan of Near Space Labs

In this edition of the UpTech report, host Alexander Ferguson meets with Rema Matevosyan, the CEO of Near Space Labs, to discuss her Earth imaging company. In a single day, Near Space Labs can deploy up to four Swifty balloons on a flight to the stratosphere where they capture images of Earth from an altitude of 60,000 to 85,000 feet. The Swifty is not just a weather balloon though. There is so much technology under the surface of this sophisticated stratospheric robot.

In the insurance industry, its high-resolution imagery can be used to complete post-disaster claims and underwriting assessments. In addition, organizations can use stratospheric imagery to track the effects of climate change including sea level rise, forest fires, and so much more. It’s even possible to use the Swifty to monitor urban sprawl and plan ahead for development. 

There are several exciting use cases for a weather balloon flight to the stratosphere, and in this episode, we’re going to learn about all of them.

Rema Matevosyan is a Co-Founder and the CEO of Near Space Labs – a disruptive Earth imaging startup whose mission is to provide seamless access to geospatial data in order to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges including urbanization and climate change. Near Space Labs deploys zero-emission stratospheric balloons, called Swiftys, to collect affordable and updated, high-resolution Earth imagery at scale. 

Prior to Near Space Labs, Rema worked as a researcher in Systems Engineering for Complex Aerospace Systems, informing the decisions of the European Commission regarding the Copernicus satellite network. She is a recognized scholar, and Emerging Space Leader, by the International Astronautical Federation. She is also a published researcher in top journals like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and more. Rema was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 and recently led Near Space Labs through a successful round of Series A funding. 

Along with her Co-Founders – Ignasi Lluch and Albert Caubet – Rema built Near Space Labs with the goal of getting geospatial imagery data into more hands than ever before, so that an entirely new generation of researchers, planners and developers can easily gain access to a different view of the world.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Rema Matevosyan 00:00
They figured out that there’s a much better way to capture the change that happens in our environment by taking a completely new approach.

Alexander Ferguson 00:14
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series. UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at I’m excited today to be joined by my guest Rema Matevosyan based in Brooklyn, New York, she’s the co-founder and CEO at Near Space Labs. Welcome Rema, good to have you on.

Rema Matevosyan 00:34
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be on.

Alexander Ferguson 00:36
And I got to continue to practice my might Russian pronunciation of names be able to get that perfect, but I’m excited to be able to talk about near space labs, you guys are you guys are an earth imagery company. And I have always been a fan of space, we’ve only covered a couple topics in the past on the series about it. But we’re getting close to the topic, near the space, you guys are focused on on flying robotic balloons, getting to the edge of space. Help me understand, though, remember, what’s the problem that you saw in this space and set out to solve?

Rema Matevosyan 01:10
Yeah, so you know, I actually didn’t grow up in Russia, I’m not Russian. I grew up in Armenia, it’s okay. It’s just I lived in Russia for for a few years, I know people get confused. So I grew up in a small country that doesn’t have space program. And as you I was also fascinated by space, and aerospace in general. And when actually I ended up in Moscow, I made my move towards aerospace. And that’s kind of where we when we start when we saw the problem, and decided to start the company with my co founder. So the problem is that it’s actually not a secret that we live in a highly urbanized world that is changing very quickly. Right? So climate change, and the heightened risk of rising sea levels and disasters, make the need for highly updated high quality, Earth imagery data, more and more critical, right. So we saw this while working as researchers in Earth imagery space, and actually designing constantly constellations of satellites for the European Commission, we figured out that there is a much better way to capture the change that happens in our environment by taking a completely new approach. So with currently we’re helping a number of industries to get access to visit high resolution frequently updated and cost effective Earth imagery data.

Alexander Ferguson 02:51
2016, you launched near space labs, when did this first idea though, start to ruminate in your in your mind.

Rema Matevosyan 02:59
So we actually launched the company. Yeah, we we, the ideas started looming in 2016. We launched the company in September 2017. When we move to United States, it’s actually a funny story. We moved and joined an accelerator with within like a two weeks notice. So I literally flew and moved countries from from Moscow, Russia to New York, and launched the company.

Alexander Ferguson 03:30
Just a few things happening at the same time for yourself. Just yeah, yeah, just a few. Speaking of of change, though, that’s honestly a big piece of what you’re looking at imaging that the reason why you’re doing all these robotic balloons is to be able to track more cost effectively. The change that is happening, where just let’s look at the just the technology for a second. Where does your your weather balloons? What are they called? swiftly? No Swifty? 52. Yeah, I like it. They go to 60,000 to 85,000 feet. Is that what that is?

Rema Matevosyan 04:12
Yeah, so our robotic balloons fly at about that altitude in the stratosphere. So twice higher than our planes 60 to 80,000 feet altitude,

Alexander Ferguson 04:25
correct. And it’s simply it’s just alright. Bumble Yosh will send you up and it takes care of itself. Like I’m just curious. Let’s just starting with just the actual How does it work?

Rema Matevosyan 04:35
Yeah, absolutely. So we actually design, build and operate our hardware. So we have a proprietary device. The Swift is proprietary. It’s a robotic device autonomous. It ships, you know, fits in a box ships in a box works with a flick of a switch. So essentially what happens You know, an operator on the ground, straps the robot on a helium balloon, and flicks the switch and launches the balloon. And the rest is autonomous. Right? So the balloon flies in the stratosphere capturing high resolution data of the ground.

Alexander Ferguson 05:20
How long can it stay up there until until it has to come back?

Rema Matevosyan 05:24
So it flies about less than a day right now. We are we’re looking to increase the persistence of our balloons more. And then so it flies for less than a day and then comes back. We, we, you know, retrieve it. And we can launch it again and reuse it multiple times.

Alexander Ferguson 05:46
The opportunity for this, like who is the target market? Obviously, one is government, I can definitely see that. And if we look at specifically the President Biden signing in that or that executive order, and then it just closing or in Congress for can you describe what that actually is? And what does that mean?

Rema Matevosyan 06:09
So see, the trifecta of resolution frequency and cost was something that the industry was trying to achieve for decades. So with our new technology that we actually commercially launched during COVID, which is a whole other story that we can address, probably, we we were able to enable number of organizations, in mostly commercial space, actually, most of our traction, currently, as a company is within the insurance space. We also work with the conservation industry. And as you mentioned, infrastructure in general, and with build back better bill finally signed into law, there are going to be number of opportunities with state and local governments to help them monitor large scale infrastructure projects, there are so many roads in the country that require a surveys and repairs, for example, bridges, I know New York will have a number of new, exciting projects coming up with this President Biden’s bill. So you know, we are we are very excited. In particular, as it comes to, let’s say insurance, what we do with our high resolution imagery, we help the insurance industry and companies in insurance industry automate premiums and claims processing. So, you know, for example, right after a disaster, we’re able to with our nimble technology, were able to launch like within 24 hours and deliver crucial data that helps the industry save 30 billion in losses a year. Because the status quo delivers information about an event, best case scenario in like five to seven days, which is already too late. With our nimbleness, we’re able to solve this problem for the insurance industry once and for all.

Alexander Ferguson 08:14
So it’s both speed as well as cost that you’re fixing for the insurance. So something happens, you’re able to get the balloon up within a day or two, is it like? Exactly,

Rema Matevosyan 08:27
yep. So that’s correct.

Alexander Ferguson 08:31
For this kind of imagery, what you’re providing back Is it is it just like, alright, here, here are high resolution shots of the space. And then they take that and then start to diagnose what was what’s what happened?

Rema Matevosyan 08:45
Correct. Yeah. So with our currently 10 centimeter resolution imagery, it’s like roughly the size of a tennis ball. So without resolution imagery, you’re able to see debris on the ground, assess the damage on the roofs and damage that happened to the buildings at scale, right and without, without needing to send people to like, essentially, what is a disaster zone to do this manually.

Alexander Ferguson 09:20
It’s 10 centimeter industry standard, or give me context.

Rema Matevosyan 09:25
So essentially, what you’re getting with near SpaceLabs is the highest resolution imagery at the lowest cost. So 10 centimeter is best in class, and very well changed to serve these needs that we are discussing. So

Alexander Ferguson 09:45
insurance is is the most immediate and make the most sense of someone needing this on a regular basis when natural disasters or things come through. What are other use cases that you see either right now or quickly? We’ll be coming down the road.

Rema Matevosyan 10:01
So our company recently raised a Series A that was led by crosslink. Capital and Toyota ventures joined as well. So with, with, with our new partners, we’re also excited about autonomous driving. So one of our long term strategic goals is actually building the next generation of navigation apps and maps that will enable autonomous driving, you and I can use Google Maps very easily right and navigate ourselves from point A to point B, we’re probably a little smarter than most of the cars. So for cars, you need more, more updated and higher precision data for them to be able to navigate to navigate their way. So that’s, for example, that’s another strategic use case that we are working on, as I mentioned, infrastructure is, is very interesting for us and very important as well and impactful, both in terms of how we monitor continuously the status of infrastructure, whether that’s dams, bridges, roads, air airports, or how we build new infrastructure, right? And like, how do we monitor the progress on this large scale projects that, you know, with President Biden’s bill, for example, will be actually happening all over the country?

Alexander Ferguson 11:31
Things that that you’ll be monitoring of? Is it what’s the frequency that something needs to be checked and monitored? Because if you’re going up flies for a day, though, you’re planning on on increasing that? What’s the frequency that someone needs these type of imagery.

Rema Matevosyan 11:49
So it varies from use case to use case, of course. But what we what we are able to do is essentially provide multi daily update rates for large metropolitan areas. So these columns, this becomes very crucial when, for example, a large scale event is happening with say, projects, like monitoring how a bridge is being built, probably weekly imagery and weekly frequency is important enough to me, and I think the key here is that we are so nimble that we’re essentially able to tune in terms of timing, frequency and resolution and deliver exactly what the customer needs. And when they need it. Does that make sense?

Alexander Ferguson 12:47
You would have to, to drive out, fly out to wherever it would need to be deployed, and then deploy it at that spot. And then for that frequency would continue to be deployed.

Rema Matevosyan 12:57
So essentially, yeah, so we have operational hubs in the country. And then that’s how we we scale. And that’s how we do many flights, right? So it’s not that you know, if, you know, we’re based in New York, for example, I’m based in New York, if we need to launch. In SF, we need to take a flight cross country fighter, to fly our balloons, we do have hubs all across the country that help us quickly spin up operations.

Alexander Ferguson 13:32
Going back to different use cases and stuff. One thing that’s in the forefront of a lot of law changes, as we just discussed, and even some investment companies is the focus on climate change. And and also tracking the effects of climate change. How How does stratospheric imagery help combat the effects of climate change?

Rema Matevosyan 13:52
That’s a great question. And thank you for that question. So a couple of things that I want to mention. First of all, we are actively working on launching sensors that will help monitor emissions, both thermal and greenhouse gases. With our nimble technology, what is very cool is that we’re able to iterate on our hardware with the speed of a software, like development, essentially, right? So we can fly or Swifty test a new device or a new technology on the Swifty landed, launch it again. So that enables very fast development cycles. So we are already fast tracking for a number of new sensors that will enable monitoring methane and monitoring heat island effects like which, you know, for example, in Manhattan, the like the best way to track heat island effects, you’ll be surprised our simulations right now, because we actually don’t have high high resolution enough data to do this. In a very data driven way, so there are a number of applications like that, that we can, we can help and support. And then I think when we talk about climate change, it’s also, it’s also important to talk about equity. Right. So when it comes to access to imagery, the highest bidder, the status quo was such that the highest bidder would get the highest resolution data. Now, there are countries like Armenia when I was born, like there are dozens of countries on the planet that don’t have access to high risk data. So stratospheric imagery, and our company particular near space labs, will help those countries get access to information that will help save lives and protect ourselves from from the effects of climate change. Does that does that answer the question?

Alexander Ferguson 15:55
It does. I mean, there’s there’s a lot to look at. And and as you said, it’s it’s in some ways, you’re trying to democratize the access to this so that more people can look at it and be able to make better decisions, educated thoughts, and there is a lot of need, depending on even just climate change. I’m curious when it comes to things like, like sea level rising? This is your solution, Swift, the good or the right method for monitoring wilderness areas and tracking these sea level rise?

Rema Matevosyan 16:24
Absolutely, yes. So high resolution imagery. Well, is is on the forefront of number of climate change related applications and including sea level rise. Yes.

Alexander Ferguson 16:38
What are you most excited about? Like when you when you built this? You you you were fascinated with this whole industry going into space? What what is driving you?

Rema Matevosyan 16:47
I think we touched this a little bit throughout our our conversation today. So democratizing access to, to space, in general, is something that drives me personally, and bringing this very crucial data to every single corner of our planet, and making sure that whoever needs it whenever they needed, they can get access to it is a very rewarding and exciting mission for me to work on.

Alexander Ferguson 17:22
I mentioned building this over the last 545 years. It’s not simple road note, it’s like okay, great. Yeah, let me let me create a space balloon that that just goes around. And it was easy, no problems at all, or am I wrong? Was it easy?

Rema Matevosyan 17:41
There were a few complications, you know, throughout.

Alexander Ferguson 17:46
Like, if we come back to the technology of just for a second, I mean, flying over that space, that that height. In my right, like the temperatures are similar to like the surface of Mars is just very, not that not the nicest place. It was anything you had to do or develop your team together with the technology side to make sure it flies well captures the imagery and works as you intend it to.

Rema Matevosyan 18:08
Oh, yeah. I don’t know where to begin, actually, from a technology perspective. Right. So let’s talk about the stratosphere for a second. So you’re completely right, it’s actually closer to in terms of an environment, it’s closer to Mars than to Earth. So there are challenges related to navigation, challenges related to protecting the equipment, etc, etc, that we had to solve. And if you think about it, are essentially a robot flies on a balloon. It’s a pretty shaky environment as well and very windy if you think about it, so, you know, stabilization to get very high resolution data from that height. You know, we as I said, we we reach very high risks, like 10 centimeter resolutions from from that altitude requires very sophisticated algorithms on the robot that are able to do that.

Alexander Ferguson 19:16
Are you it’s not like you’re just sticking a DSLR camera to a weather balloon.

Rema Matevosyan 19:21
Is that simple? I wish it was that simple. No, it’s it’s a complex device. The Swift is a very complex device. It’s It’s essentially a robot, right? And it flies in a very poetic way. In my opinion, we actually use the pool of the earth and the winds. So we are, we’re kind of it’s almost integrated with nature as integrated as technology can get in my head. So yeah, it’s it’s very complex, but it’s also from From idea perspective, it’s simple enough that it also wins over many hearts of technologists and business leaders, thankfully as well.

Alexander Ferguson 20:09
I feel like there’s a there’s a couple different interesting things happening with high altitude balloons. I think there’s another one on the internet side loon? Is there a lot of things? Or is there just a couple things that are, they’re starting to take advantage of, of this kind of technology space?

Rema Matevosyan 20:27
So yeah, there had been some, you know, projects in the space for sure, like loan, there are companies that try to do space travel with balloons, which is also very exciting for us. In terms of Earth imagery, in particular, and data about our planets, which we believe is going to be one of the key components on how we just solve climate change related applications and challenges. As we discussed. We are essentially the leading and the largest provider, in terms of stratospheric stratospheric imagery. Today,

Alexander Ferguson 21:09
we’re gonna see balloons snowed, like, all over Is it is it isn’t part of the future. Is this gonna? It’s part of just in order to get this to happen?

Rema Matevosyan 21:18
Um, you first of all, you’re you’re very welcome to come to a launch campaign. I forgot where you’re based. But

Alexander Ferguson 21:28
Carolina, so not too far away from New York. But

Rema Matevosyan 21:32
I’m sure we’ll we have fights happening in North Carolina as well. I’ll keep you posted. But you’re very welcome to come our balloons fly too high for people to see them. It. They’re almost like from that perspective, they’re like satellites, you don’t see satellites. And you don’t you don’t see really car balloons, either.

Alexander Ferguson 21:53
Gotcha. And you’re only flying during the day? Or are you flying during the night as well?

Rema Matevosyan 21:57
No, we fly during the day mostly. So today we provide optical imagery and for optical imagery to work unit light.

Alexander Ferguson 22:08
So it’s a challenge to do a time lapse from no different shells for sure. Well, for you, what do you see the future that if you look at the technology, where it is today, the use cases? If you look out three, five years from now, what what do you what would you predict?

Rema Matevosyan 22:27
So our core belief is that Earth imagery and high resolution Earth imagery is going to be on the forefront of how we solve challenges connected with urbanization, disasters and climate change. So and it is very important to include everyone and make sure that everybody has access to data that can save lives and build our future better and more sustainably. So we believe that our zero emissions approach will become the standard to getting data about our planet and how it’s changing.

Alexander Ferguson 23:12
I love the future that you’re painting and bringing to reality for those that want to learn more, you can head over to Thank you so much, Rema for joining us. Great to have you on the series.

Rema Matevosyan 23:24
Yeah, thank you. This was a pleasure and such a fun conversation. Thank you.

Alexander Ferguson 23:28
We’ll see on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live work and do business? Go to UpTech and let us know


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