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 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. 


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. How brilliant! 

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


Why Near Space Labs


As a stratospheric imagery provider, Near Space Labs produces high resolution, high frequency imagery to its collection of overhead imagery for clients. Our partnership with Near Space Labs increases the collection of aerial imagery for properties from two- to three-times per year to monthly/weekly; or even daily in the event of a natural disaster such as flooding, wildfires or coastal storm surge.

Near Space Labs, with their high-frequency observations and ability to include precise resolution, is a great addition to Arturo’s services. When a region or state is threatened by a natural disaster, we need to monitor properties in near real-time and through the partnership with Near Space Labs, Arturo is more responsive to our clients, whenever they need us.

From Rema Matevosyan, CEO of Near Space Labs: 

“We are working with Arturo to solve a massive issue for P&C insurance companies. Traditionally, they have lacked up-to-date, ground-truth imagery for underwriting, claims and assessing risk. Arturo’s platform adds a layer of intelligence to enable insurance customers to better understand how commercial and residential properties change over time and also for catastrophe-triaging.”


Why Urban Sky 


Via their new stratospheric Microballoon ™, Urban Sky delivers broad area, high-resolution aerial imagery at a cost drastically less than satellites, aircraft or drones. The company’s novel invention, the high-altitude Microballoon, leverages advances in component miniaturization and first-of-its-kind material re-usability to exponentially reduce the cost of high-res remote sensing and weather-related data capture over broad areas, leading to more impactful data over more areas than ever before.

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. Arturo is one of the first application developers to see this, truly understand it, and invest in the space to the benefit of its own customers.” 


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