Satellite launches for Google hi-res imaging; can we track humans by shadows?

Google is really watching now. John Battelle blogs:

Not content to lease data from others who have satellites, Google today launched its own satellite into space. (Via BeetTv, thanks Andy.) Talk about web meets world….this is yet another indicator of the integration of virtual and physical. And it brings Google one step closer to what I think could be the company's Waterloo – a viral meme that Google is sensing too much, knows too much, and is too powerful. It may not be rational, but no one ever accused humans of being entirely rational.

And via the linked AP article:

A Delta 2 rocket carrying the GeoEye-1 satellite lifted off at 11:50 a.m. Saturday. Video on the GeoEye Web site showed the satellite separating from the rocket moments later on its way to an eventual polar orbit. The satellite makers say GeoEye-1 has the highest resolution of any commercial imaging system. It can collect images from orbit with enough detail to show home plate on a baseball diamond.

And snip from a related article by Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides on Wired News:

In a speech last month to a security conference in the UK, Stoica explained that by using shadows you can read the length and rhythm of someone's gait and do an identification, even from above. He has written software that isolates the shadow from video, and adjusts for time of day and camera angle to deal with elongated and foreshortened shadows. Stoica shot video from the top of a six story building to test out his software and was able to get usable gait data on his subjects.

Now going from six stories to satellites in low Earth orbit is probably a stretch. The best commercial low Earth orbit satellite (GeoEye- launching this Sunday to power better Google Maps) will have 41 cm resolution. The best known military spy sat can see at least down to 10 cm (though who knows what classified hardware can do). GeoEye is also only taking stills as it flies over, not the kinds of video footage that Stoica was using. To do that, you might need to go up to geostationary orbit which is much farther out and according to one expert, just wouldn't have the resolution. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying overhead, on the other hand, might work just fine for this.

Either way, you may want to practice skipping from place to place when it is sunny out.

Spy Software Could ID You By Your Shadow (Wired Science)

Clarification, 725pm PT: One anonymous BB commenter was among several who took issue with the implication that Google actually owned the satellite, the launch vehicle, or exclusive usage rights to all resulting data. That's not accurate. In the discussion thread for this BB post, "anonymous #27" said:

Google is the "exclusive online mapping site" customer for GeoEye-1 data; it is not the exclusive customer for the imagery. Many other customers, including and especially the NGA, will be using GeoEye-1 data. Also, the Google logo was on the launch vehicle, not the spacecraft, and Google did not pay for the placement.

This Reuters item released a few hours ago covers those ownership/exclusivity matters, and is a helpful read. Here's a press release from GeoEye about the launch, also released this afternoon.

And in related news, Google is evidently planning offshore data barges, to avoid property taxes and keep hard-workin' servers cool with the power of the ocean. (via Tim O'Reilly/Twitter)