The School of Aerospace Engineering has signed an important collaboration agreement in the form of an Exchange of letters with the Φ-lab, an advanced research laboratory located in ESA-Esrin, in Frascati

Monday, 20 June, 2022

The School of Aerospace Engineering has signed an important collaboration agreement in the form of an Exchange of letters with the Φ-lab, an advanced research laboratory located in ESA-Esrin, in Frascati.

The ESA Φ-lab is a Division in the Future Systems Department of the Earth Observation department. Its mission is to accelerate the future of Earth Observation (EO) using transformational innovations to strengthen the world-leading competitiveness of the European EO industrial and research sectors. One of the technology axes where Φ-lab is active is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applied to Earth Observation. It is the core of Φ-lab research activity performed in the Explore Office to show that Artificial Intelligence is a transformative technology also in space. However, the Φ-lab pursues other disruptive and innovative technologies to enable future EO systems. Among them, it is noteworthy to cite the quantum computing paradigm, which is now being explored by research centers and some industries recognizing the potential future advantages of this technology. Finally, the Φ-lab supports transversal studies using EO data for SDGs (sustainable development goals), for instance to find correlation between remote sensing data and Dengue epidemic. AI for Earth Observation (AI4EO) has great potential that is still largely untapped. One of the goals of Φ-lab’s mission is to exploit this potential, increasing the supply of AI talents by training students and data entrepreneurs to develop the new generation of AI-powered EO-based businesses.

With this Exchange of letters, ESA's Φ-lab and SIA recognize their shared interest in supporting each other's activities and setting up joint activities that help developing new AI4EO technologies. The scope of the cooperation is to develop a “research bridge” enabling a continuous flow of information and collaboration between the SIA and Φ-lab to jointly increase research mobility and knowledge transfer. ESA’s Φ-lab and SIA will work together to foster the inter-exchange of competencies to transfer AI methods to Earth observation applications by enabling research visits and conducting joint research and events. ESA's Φ-lab and SIA have declared their interest in carrying out joint activities on topics such as:

1. On-board AI. We will carry out prefeasibility analysis, comparative studies, and hardware implementation of innovative AI-based software solution to be implemented on hardware accelerators (e.g., GPUs, VPUs, FPGAs, etc.). This study will help defining future autonomous remote sensing missions aiming at providing to the ground segment processed data (or information) instead of raw data.

2. Remote sensing for agricultural purposes. We will perform studies aiming at the development of new algorithms and tools to enable innovative solutions for agricultural purposes, in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

3. Quantum computing (QC) for remote sensing. We will explore new innovative solutions using quantum computing to deal with the increasing computational requirements coming from the Earth Observation Big Data. Based on preliminary studies where both parties have contributed, this activity will focus on the investigation of new approaches to improve and optimize the usage of QC in remote sensing, with the goal of defining the promising areas of application where QC can be advantageous with respect to classical computing.

4. Remote sensing data for socio-economic or disease analysis. We recognize the relevance of using remote sensing-based data for transversal studies aimed at socio-economic analysis. Remote sensing data can be used to study relevant socio-economic aspects such as criminality or to underline correlations of pandemics and/or epidemics (e.g., Dengue) with climate data.

The collaboration foresees:

Research visits of master students, post-doc or young researchers, and professors from SIA at ESA's Φ-lab to be held on a regular basis. These research periods do not include fundings and should facilitate exchange of knowledge and knowhow between SIA’s and Φ-lab’s experts and researchers

Joint events to reinforce the AI4EO philosophy and to make the members of SIA aware of the possible use of AI for space application

Dissemination of the joint studies results by participating at International Conferences or publishing in top peer-reviewed scientific journals

Joint Courses in the shape of Summer-schools or Webinars.

• When considered mutually favorable, participation in the two entities' single initiatives.


The primary Points of contact for implementing this research are:

• Dr. Dario Spiller for SIA

• Dr. Pierre-Philippe Mathieu for Φ-lab

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