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Professor Mark Maslin

Intelligent land-use: leading the big data integration

The big data revolution has given us huge amounts of new information to help individuals, companies and governments make better sense of the world. But there is a problem with these masses of new information: different organisations collect data in different ways. Professor Maslin explains: “Everybody produces beautiful spatial data: health professionals, climatologists, agriculturalists, even economists. But they are all in different data formats and coordinate systems, so place A in one person’s data is not place A in someone else’s data.”

Professor Maslin spent years looking into the use of satellite data to monitor the surface of the earth, with a particular interest in understanding climate change and its implications. He realised it was necessary to combine different data sources to make analysis possible and developed a system that translates different datasets into a common format. Any spatial data can now be combined to give us new insights about the state of our planet and how this relates to anything from plant growth to human health.

In 2012 he co-founded Rezatec, which grew to 12 employees and £1 million turnover by 2015. Rezatec’s first clients were in the forestry sector, where help was needed to manage sustainable production. The benefit to clients and the accuracy of the technology are clear: “we have an algorithm that literally counts trees”.

Rezatec also supports six major companies in the UK water industry, combining satellite and ground data to map their water and peat reserves as well as tracking sources of contamination. Whether focusing on a single city or the entire country, the system works on any geographical scale.

Agriculture also benefits from this technology. British Sugar is the UK’s top producer of sugar beet, and 10% of their farmers have a much higher yield than the rest. Prof Maslin explains how Rezatec helps: “Our job is to understand why those farmers are doing better at managing their land to get those higher yields. If other farmers can learn to get similar yields then there’s a significant increase in profit margins.” 

Around £4 million has been raised for further development from organisations including Innovate UK, the European Space Agency and NERC. Professor Maslin’s ambition is nothing less than the user-friendly integration of all the various data created by our information-overloaded society. Looking ahead, he notes: “Anyone will be able to go online and start to play with huge datasets, which we make sure are all complete and compatible.”

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