At Arturo, our team is constantly seeking partnerships with the most cutting edge providers across technology, data, and imagery to deliver the best property analytics to Insurance Carriers. We utilize multi-source imagery to enhance our process and push the boundaries on what we offer clients. We strive towards embracing as much data as possible because we know that one data provider can not solve all of the challenges Insurance Carriers face today. 

Arturo has partnered with leaders across the imagery landscape including aerial, satellite, drone and ground level. Recently we have partnered with two up and coming players in the imagery space, Near Space Labs and Urban Sky, to derive imagery analytics from Stratospheric Balloons. 

In this article we dive into what stratospheric balloon imagery is, why we are now partnering with balloon imagery providers, the interesting opportunity they present for Insurance Carriers, and hear directly from the technology leaders Near Space Labs and Urban Sky.


What are Stratospheric Balloons? 

Stratospheric Balloons are manned or unmanned high-altitude balloons that are filled with helium and released into the stratosphere between 60,000 – 120,000 feet in elevation. Stratospheric balloons do not require an engine or fuel to fly. They fly with the air currents and their path is determined by very precise weather modeling. Balloons have been used for decades across fields of science, the military, and aerospace; recent advances in atmospheric modeling have opened the door to precise flight paths suitable for collecting overhead imagery of the earth.

Using stratospheric balloons to capture imagery: 

When thinking about balloons in relation to other imagery sources, the altitude in which stratospheric balloons are flown is too low for satellites and too high for aircrafts. No pilots, no flight plans, no expensive jet fuel, no immense launch costs allow a much lower cost per pixel. So this kind of platform produces high-resolution imagery at a cost that is far less than satellites, aircrafts or drones.

Frequency of imagery:

Balloon sourced images can have a higher Temporal Resolution (or what is also known as the revisit-rate, expressing how often a particular area is re-captured and reprocessed). However, it is poignant to note that using stratospheric balloons as an imagery capture source is still in a very experimental phase. There is potential for balloons to fly very frequently, with the possibility of regular monthly coverage and daily to weekly coverage in certain areas of interest (for example, areas recently impacted by natural disasters). No other types of imagery providers collect images that often at such a detailed resolution.

Resolution of imagery: 

Because the balloons are closer to earth, they are easily able to produce images with higher Spatial Resolution. This is a critical measurement for Insurance Carriers as it is the number one factor in determining a property data model’s accuracy. The Spatial Resolution is typically between  8cm – 30cm.

“At Near Space Labs our mission is to empower organizations both large and small with extremely valuable information about our changing planet. Our nimble and zero-emissions robotic devices – called Swifts – allow us to capture 1000s of miles of imagery per flight and supply it in a cost effective manner. Our product offsets millions of kg of CO2 every single year compared to other aerial solutions” said Rema Matevosyan, co-founder and CEO of Near Space Labs.


How Stratospheric Balloons Imagery Enables Insurance Carriers

Balloons offer an interesting opportunity for Insurance Carriers because they can be operated in a region of the atmosphere (15 to 45 km in altitude or roughly at 60,000ft), which is too low for satellites, too high for aircrafts. Or in other words they fall in an elevation that is between satellite and aerial imagery. Why does that matter?

Stratospheric Balloon Imagery produces near aerial-level Spatial Resolution with the ability to also deliver satellite level coverage (very large swaths in a short amount of time) and revisit (high frequency).

Stratospheric Balloons have been around for a long time, and just recently they have been repurposed for imagery acquisition. Providers like Near Space Labs and Urban Sky are utilizing an existing aerial platform that has been understood and regulated for decades, for image collection by changing out the sensor package and camera system attached to the balloons.  From Andrew Antonio, CEO and Co-founder of Urban Sky, “The stratosphere is virtually untapped, yet offers an enormous advantage for aerial imagery capture. It combines the best attributes of satellites and fixed wing aircraft, at a cost drastically less than either of those platforms.”

Stratospheric balloons do not have the same FAA restrictions that airplanes have, they are far less costly, and they do not have any of the government resolution restrictions often imposed on satellite imagery. Additionally, due to the lower cost and ability to download large volumes of data, stratospheric balloon imagery will be more likely to collect imagery over ex-urban and rural areas.

The benefits of stratospheric balloon imagery can be boiled down to these key points: 

  • Higher revisit rate than satellite imagery with increased collection of frequently uncollected regions
  • Near aerial-level resolution 
  • Increased geographical coverage opportunity
  • Less regulations than aerial or satellite imagery
  • Lower design, build, flight, and maintenance costs

Rema Matevosyan highlights that “Our current scale across the country and quick turnaround times allow us to deliver imagery within days anywhere in the country. This flexibility of deployment becomes crucial especially in pre- and post-catastrophe scenarios, where insurance carriers lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year. We’re excited to partner with Arturo and deliver insights to our customers in the fastest way possible.” 

Looking Ahead: The Future of Stratospheric Balloon Imagery

Looking to the future, the Arturo team sees the value of utilizing stratospheric balloon imagery for catososphertic risk modeling and overall book monitoring. 

Insurance Carriers want to be able to identify the risk of their overall book ‘before’ and ‘after’ a catastrophic event. With the FAA restrictions and regulations involved with aerial imagery, it can be difficult to acquire the necessary data to uplift CAT risk models. With the use of stratospheric balloons, Arturo will likely be able to access more images pre and post-event so Insurance Carriers get the property characteristics that assist with flood and wind related exposures.

For most Insurance Carriers, they want to be able to monitor their book of business by collecting property images four times a year (or once a quarter). That kind of data at the required spatial resolution, from a single provider, does not exist today. Stratospheric balloons can take flight once a month, giving new eyes on properties like never before. 

“Arturo is changing the way the insurance sector leverages data by changing the way we look at the Earth, and we’re excited to partner with such an innovative team. Urban Sky is commercializing an entirely new type of data, and Arturo was first through the door to evaluate our products and imagine a future made better by their existence,” states Andrew Antonio, CEO of Urban Sky. 

The Arturo team is always pushing to find the best data available to empower our clients. The ability to ingest from myriad data sources is at the foundation of how we provide the best and most timely property characteristics possible. We are thrilled to bring on partners like Urban Sky and Near Space labs to push the boundaries on what we can offer Insurance Carriers. Learn more about our partners here.