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Space Google

Google's Satellites Could Soon See Your Face From Space 140

Jason Koebler (3528235) writes Two months ago, after much lobbying by the biggest satellite company in North America, DigitalGlobe, the US government relaxed restrictions to allow for commercially available satellite imagery up to 25 cm resolution—twice as detailed as the previous limit of 50 cm.
The DigitalGlobe's Worldview-3, the first commercial satellite set to capture these high-res images is set to launch this Wednesday. Six months after that, private businesses, including its regular client Google, will be able to get their hands on hyper-detailed photos and videos of the globe.
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Google's Satellites Could Soon See Your Face From Space

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  • by davecotter ( 1297617 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @06:54PM (#47651469)
    doesn't that mean my entire face would be 1 pixel large?
    • by tysonedwards ( 969693 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @06:55PM (#47651483)
      Shhh... You aren't supposed to bring facts into a "ZOMFG SCARY HEADLINE!" debate!
    • doesn't that mean my entire face would be 1 pixel large?

      Maybe two if you have a big mouth..... (Shush up Dave!)

    • by Shoten ( 260439 )

      doesn't that mean my entire face would be 1 pixel large?

      I think Slashdot editors believe that all of the readers must be profoundly obese in, multiple chins, and a beard for each of them.

      • by flyneye ( 84093 )

        All the way down to their bulbous DDD man bewbs,

        • No, it's chins all the way down.

          • by flyneye ( 84093 )

            I'm still recovering from dining @ Carlos O'Kellys the other night and seeing the species in question polishing off a couple dinners and appetizers. " Damn , honey , look at that! His tits are twice as big as yours!" I had to draught two more Dos Equis Dark , just to finish some of my dinner.

    • by thieh ( 3654731 )
      Well, for now. A couple of lobbyists and satellites later it will be able to get as clear as your cellphone camera pictures
      • The mirror for that satellite would have to be several hundred meters in diameter.

        • by Herve5 ( 879674 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @04:03AM (#47653267)

          Not specially. It depends on the satellite altitude. For low orbits, a 1-m telescope is vastly sufficient for 25-cm resolutions.
          Maybe you are confused with Geostationary orbits, where indeed enormous mirrors would be required to get hi-res (GEO stays interesting because of its permanence : only from tyere you can get a "movie"; from low orbits it's images "on the fly")

          • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

            ..and to be clear as cellphone pics from one meter it would need to be 10 000 times the resolution.. so?

            better headline.. "be able to tell possibly what kind of a car you're driving and what hardware some random 3rd world country has in their military base".

          • > Not specially. It depends on the satellite altitude

            If it's anywhere above the atmosphere, which, being a satellite, it is, then the limit is at about five times that due to atmospheric diffraction. You need multiple times the limit in order to process the results into something near your diffraction limit. That's why WorldView-2 had an aperture about 2m to get 50cm resolution. Plus it was launched sun-sync at ~700 km, which I suspect is where WV-3 will sit too.

    • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:00PM (#47651803)
      You've seen the graphics in Minecraft, haven't you? Pixels can get pretty detailed...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:34PM (#47651965)

      Ah yes but you forget...


    • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:04PM (#47652059) obviously haven't been hanging around here for long.

    • I trust them (Score:4, Insightful)

      by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:10PM (#47652077) Homepage Journal

      I have complete confidence that companies will follow all laws even for things that are to be placed forever out of the reach of inspectors. Even if they could, they would never just put an artificial restriction on the equipment for when some clueless government inspector wants to do the pre-launch check.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You know, some of us walk around with our heads pointing to the sky with a 800cm^2 magnifying glass over us. You insensitive clod!
      • You know, some of us walk around with our heads pointing to the sky with a 800cm^2 magnifying glass over us. You insensitive clod!

        I hope you live in Seattle or Portland. And have some Joo Janta 200 sunglasses and an awfully large Aloe Vera garden.

    • But the CSI folks will be able to zoom in on that one pixel far enough to see your DNA.
    • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:29AM (#47653025)

      "doesn't that mean my entire face would be 1 pixel large?"

      Americans have much larger faces, even their centimeters are 2,54 larger.

    • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @02:56AM (#47653091)
      This. Ridiculous, fearmongering flamebait from Slashdot, something this site is increasingly becoming associated with.

      You know what Slashdot's editors want us to be terrified of the privacy implications from? Something significantly lower-resolution than existing aerial photos like this image [].

      Download the image, and measure the length of runway 3/21 in pixels from threshold to threshold. (Approx. 6341 pixels.) Figure out how long it should be at 25cm per pixel. (4876 pixels.) Scale the image appropriately (7500 pixels wide.) Zoom in to 1:1 resolution onscreen.

      Now, are you terrified? No? Nor am I. Want to confirm I'm right about the scaling? Find a car and measure the length: it should be about 20 pixels, or 500cm for a typical full-sized US car. (I tried one, and the first one I tried was exactly 20 pixels.)

      So no, I'm not scared. What I am is mildly amused that the myth of satellites that can read newspapers from space still exists. That, and surprised that imagery this (still relatively) low-resolution was ever off limits in the Internet age. And a bit disgusted that a supposed nerd site insults the intelligence of nerds who know far better, this readily.

      I really should stop coming back here.
    • Think I am going to start wearing hats more often now.

    • Only if you're looking up in the direction of the satellite, otherwise it's your head that would be about 1 pixel. Of course it's unlikely in either case that your your head/face would be contained in one pixel so it would more probably be split among 2 or 4 pixels.

    • Title says nothing about being able to distinguish things like ears, nose, eyes, hair, etc... We will be able to see your face as exactly a pixel.

      Considering how satellites transverse the Earth, we may even be able to once every couple of years! :)

      That said, might be able to do analysis on face complexion if nothing else...


  • 25 cm resolution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @06:57PM (#47651491) Journal
    Your face will occupy all of one quarter of a pixel 25cm x 25cm. Good luck seeing your face from satellite. It is high res. But not so high as to see a face.
    • Re:25 cm resolution (Score:5, Informative)

      by tysonedwards ( 969693 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @07:08PM (#47651541)
      The average human head is 14.5cm x 23cm x 20cm, so you are quite correct that it would mean that the average human head would occupy less than 1 pixel regardless of which axis it was observed across.

      The largest recorded human head was 15.9cm x 25.5cm x 23.9cm, meaning that said person could require a second pixel, if they were observed in the appropriate axis.

      It is important to note that if a person was observed laying down on the ground, they would occupy *up to* 10 pixels in the case of the world's tallest person, but the average would only require 6.
      • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @07:22PM (#47651605)
        It'd be like first pass downloading interlaced porn from the BBS days...

        For those that don't know what I'm talking about... []
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        except the St. Google has purchased are capably of much finer detail, ans they are lobbying to relax the regulations even more. If they are successful, then Google's Sats can see you face.,

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Sure they can. First, they have to convince me to go outside. Then, they have to convince me to look up. I understand that their satellite may not be directly overhead and can get an angled view, but still - they will get pictures of the top of a lot of people's heads. I guess there will be a brisk market in tinfoil hats with a middle finger being shown on the top.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        The average human head is 14.5cm x 23cm x 20cm, so you are quite correct that it would mean that the average human head would occupy less than 1 pixel

        I'd argue a little differently, that pixel is primarily made up of your face/head (>50%). It's probably good enough to tell your skin or hair color, depending on angle.

        It is important to note that if a person was observed laying down on the ground, they would occupy *up to* 10 pixels in the case of the world's tallest person, but the average would only require 6.

        He'd be up to 10 pixels long. Actually 11 pixels, if you don't restrict yourself to tallest living person. But I'm guessing he's more than 10 inches wide, so I expect around twice the area except maybe the top pixel for the head. And more if you stretch out your arms, say two more to each side. So more like 1 (head) + 2*5 (body, legs) + 2*

        • by darkain ( 749283 )

          So you're telling me that a Final Fantasy 1 sprite on the NES is still exceedingly more detailed than a human being captured using this system? Cool, we're good!

      • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 )

        the average human head would occupy less than 1 pixel regardless of which axis it was observed across.

        No, that would be low resolution. This is high resolution. Use a shot where the face is at the intersection of 4 pixels. There, I just quadrupled your resolution!

        Of course, the headline (which seemingly has nothing to do with the articles or even the summary) says see your face from space, not identify your face from space. If your face is represented in 1-4 pixels, which could potentially be distinguished as a face by those pixels' colors in comparison to neighboring pixels, isn't it technically seeing

    • Low res hasn't prevented people from seeing a face on mars [].
    • by rastos1 ( 601318 )
      How big area of pixel is needed to reconstruct sound []?
  • ...well, they can already see your Blurred face (or dog, incredibly enough) from any street anywhere. But from outer space, at least I'd have several layers of atmosphere, clouds and whatnot to protect my pretty limbs from prying eyes in the sky.

    Have you seen the weather data you can download freely? It's available from a satellite near you (or an internet site, if you don't have a clue like most people...yes they don't have a clue). The resolution, (high res MAP) is terrible. Why? Ever heard of atmosphe
    • Re:Street view... (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShaunC ( 203807 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:17PM (#47652109)

      A lot of what shows up on Google Maps, especially in larger metro areas, has been photographed from planes. They're only up on nice VFR days, so there's no atmosphere in the way. Better resolution satellite stuff from Digital Globe will be nice to see, but aircraft will continue to dominate the commercial aerial imagery sector for quite awhile.

      • Especially now a UAV capable of carrying some quite high quality camera hardware is actually pretty cheap. I've been admiring the 8 rotor which can take a decent SLR on a gimbal. It's not exactly cheap by 'home user' standards, but it's a comparable price to the camera it's carrying. Compare to the price of a satellite and launch though... there's really no contest.
  • by Flyskippy1 ( 625890 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @07:08PM (#47651543) Homepage

    They could get better and better satellites with higher resolutions, and continuously lobby the US government to allow higher resolutions to be released.

    Or they could use planes, and StreetView cars... Like they currently do.

    • The planes imagery is what the western world gets already.

      This would be a great benefit to more remote areas however.

    • Does Google actually even own satellites, or are they just buying imagery from someone?
      • They have (or had) a mostly exclusive contract with GeoEye for one of their satellites, though the US government held priority over that in case they needed access to the imagery.

        Google recently purchased SkyBox, and so may soon be launching its own constellation of smaller satellites. These will reportedly have high-res video capabilities, so it may be possible to watch traffic (or other things) moving in real- or near-real time.

    • Commissioning ariel photography is very expensive, is only done occasionally rather than continuously, and Putin would take a very dim view of you flying your plane over his army that he says isn't even there.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If the government is removing the restrictions that tends to indicate they already have access to even better satellite imagery capabilities. When that plane disappeared a few months back they probably had enough evidence to locate the crash but could not publish the information without revealing their true capabilities.

  • i saw what you did here. starting a haiku?
  • Or 4x the resolution (a 50cm square being 4x as large as a 25cm square)?

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Resolution is measured linearly, not quadratically.
      • by gavron ( 1300111 )

        No. It isn't. That's why there are two dimensions to it.

        X x Y (see, two dimensions). That's not linear. OP is right. 25cm is 4x the resolution of 50cm.


      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        Resolution is measured linearly, not quadratically.

        Why? The surface of the Earth is two-dimensional (three, if you want to be picky), not one-dimensional.

  • At this rate... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thieh ( 3654731 )
    Privacy will be a thing of the past in no time. The only matter is when do we reach the point of no return.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      aerial imagery will never be a problem as these are static snapshots. They don't show anything private and the current rate of 1fpa (frames per annum) depending on region they don't yield enough data for anything unless you have really bad luck doing something really dumb and one datapoint is enough.

      The resolution in time is so much worse than everything else that is collected about you that people who want to invade your privacy use other sources and then point a satellite to the location they want to watc

  • by Anonymous Coward shot from space?!!

  • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:11PM (#47652089)

    Google and other online map-providing companies supplement satellite imagery with aerial photography, and as far as I know, there are no limits on that sort of thing.

  • can see my face from inside my house.
  • And we're done.

  • The company whose boss said I should not expect privacy on Internet will soon have satellites. What could go wrong?

    Indeed with 25cm resolution they cannot recognize people, but they can still track their movements. And combined with data from smartphones, identifying someone gets easier.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The company whose boss said I should not expect privacy on Internet will soon have satellites.

      That is not what he said. Here is the quote:

      "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place,"

      This was in December 2009, as China's efforts to read dissident's emails were coming to light. There is a reasonable chance that he knew what Snowden told us. I think this was a warning.

    • When you've got data from smartphones, the satellite imagery is largely irrelevant. You've already got a solid identification, location fix, and for bonus points - local audio and video. A photo of your hat won't make much difference.
  • is much bigger than 25 cm. I am very happy that they will be able to see it clearly.

  • by ignavus ( 213578 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:40PM (#47652613)

    I always walk around outside looking at the ground (don't like the sight of moving people).

    Google isn't going to film my face from space - at least, not until they cover the ground with mirrors.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    Pay no attention to the Google street view vehicle that captured your dong. Or at least, some dong. [] To be fair though, there are probably a lot of dongs on that street.
  • Google Street View cars are doing a great job so far: []

  • Just wondering. If the resolution limit is imposed by a restriction, then what would a satellite be able to do if the only limitation was technological?

    I remember seeing a documentary about leaked details of satellites that could read the headlines off a newspaper in the early 1970s, but they would have had very low orbits and didn't stay up long, mainly because they would run out of film.
    • From low orbit, about 25cm is reported for military satellites. Maybe a little better. DigitalGlobe is now at 41cm. Reading newspaper headlines from orbit is unlikely. If the military satellites were doing that well, there would be little reason to fly recon drones or aircraft.

      Once you can recognize vehicles, weapons, and troops from orbit, more resolution doesn't help much militarily. The next step, which is where DigitalGlobe is going, is more frequent imagery, and wider fields of view and more down

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      I think the best that can be done with a single image is around 15cm due to the atmosphere. Maybe somewhat better with multiple images, although I don't know how well that works on a moving target/ moving platform except at astronomical distances.

      I once heard that during the Iran crisis back in the late 70's the imagery was good enough that they could identify the Ayatollahs by the shape of their beards

  • Hmm i wonder if they could use multiple autonomous solar powerred drones to give much finer details.
  • Some sort of hat is probably in order.

    commercially available satellite imagery up to 25 cm resolution

    If you have a huge face, at least.

  • by Moskit ( 32486 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @03:54AM (#47653237)

    AFAIK this limit was for _selling_ photos commercially, not for taking them. Those satellites could already take photos at higher resolution (25cm or better), they just had to be provided to USA government and noone else.
    50cm images sold commercially were probably upsampled from 25cm photos anyway.

    Limit was also only applicable in USA (obviously), and was changed to allow USA companies to compete with rest of the world as technologies advance.

    • Exactly. Satellite imagery of better than 50cm resolution has been available from European satellites for some time. This is just the USA playing catch-up in the commercial marketplace
  • Oh no! That pixel representing the 25x25 area of my face will violate my privacy so badly if I happen to look up at the wrong moment!

  • I seriously do not understand what they mean by 50cm (or 25cm) resolution. On the current Google Maps picture of our house, you can clearly see the yellow garden hose snaking across the lawn. The garden hose is maybe 3cm thick. We have stepping stones in the lawn, averaging maybe 40cm by 60cm; each stone clearly occupies multiple pixels. I would guess that a single pixel represents about 10cm.

    This is in Switzerland. Are photos in the USA fuzzier? I just zoomed in on a military base, and I can clearly see th

    • That higher resolution is because you're looking at an image captured from an aircraft flying at a much lower altitude than a satellite.
  • So you're telling me that if I want to protect my privacy now, I either have to stop looking straight up while I'm walking around? How the hell am I supposed to see where I'm not going?!? And what am I supposed to do if I accidentally make eye contact with someone???

    • Watch out for people wearing google glass or carrying a smartphone too. Actually, that's probably by far the bigger threat here.
  • Actually, if the former limit was 50cm and the new one is 25cm, the resulting images will be four times as detailed, not two.
  • I am looking forward to my portrait in a glorious two pixel resolution.

  • Wouldn't you have to be looking straight up for a satellite to see your face? I don't know about you, but I hardly ever look straight up into space except at night to look at the stars, and at night I think it would be hard for a satellite to see me.
  • What resolution do we think that government satellites can do?

  • Ok, nitpicking here, but whatever. If you go from 50 cm to 25 cm resolution, yes, that's double the resolution. But an image exists 2 dimensions, so it's double in the x direction and double in the y direction for a total improvement of 4 times. What used to be one pixel is now four.
  • I would rather that google had a legitimate *real time* display on it's google earth so that I'm not looking at some piece of land that was photographed in 2009.. THe resolution on Google Earth is appaling, and streets is better, but beinmg six years out of date makes it useless fior my needs. I once was trying to send someone a screenshot of my address to help them find it.. being in the country it can be difficult.. but I'd onl;y been living there 5 years and still that was too recvent, as all google stre

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