FIRE Forum and Ecoten: The Challenges of EO in Cities

 FIRE Forum and Ecoten: The Challenges of EO in Cities

With well over half of the world’s population living in cities, the urban environment is one of the key targets for Earth Observation (EO) applications. This was obvious at the recent EXPANDEO and FIRE Forum Conference in Brussels, that we reported on earlier here, where urban development was one of the key topics.

FIRE Forum on EO for Urban Development

FIRE, the industry-led Forum for Innovation and Research in European Earth Observation, aims to gather information for establishing high-level roadmaps for guiding development, delivery, and uptake of EO services in Europe. Earlier this year FIRE organised a focus group workshop with urban applications specialists, to assess the current use of EO in the urban development sector, to explore how EO is perceived by (end-)users, and to envision a future scenario and ideate on actions for increasing the uptake of remote sensing technologies in the sector over the next years.

The landscape of EO products and services in the urban sector steadily becomes more fragmented as the needs of cities and citizens are continuously changing. Even though the Urban EO sector is relatively mature in terms of development, companies are still investing too much time and effort in “reinventing the wheel” and creating EO solutions from scratch for already existing applications. Among the issues, existing EO solutions are difficult to retrieve, or they are often not replicable to fit different types of urban needs.

The Role of EO in Cities

Tied to some uptake-requirements, the FIRE Project urban focus group identified that EO can play a substantial role in the following applications in the next years:

  • Helping to simulate and predict models for better understanding complex urban ecosystems.
  • Supporting plans for climate adaptation, urban resilience, and smart cities.
  • Offering more transparency in government regulations.
  • EO as a tool for urban planners and decision makers for making fact-based decisions.

Barriers to the use of EO in Cities

It seems an obvious choice for all cities and municipalities to pick up the great opportunities that EO offers to help them solve future challenges. Of course reality is not that simple. There are several factors that prevent a fast uptake of EO data in cities. One of the key issue is awareness and communication of benefits. Both on the demand (cities) and supply (EO solution providers) fragmentation causes duplication of efforts and unawareness of opportunities.

The future of EO for cities

As one of the EO evangelists said at EXPANDEO a few days ago: “The future for EO in Europe is bright”. She referred to the increasing accessibility of EO data, the increasing integration of EO data into existing (GIS) systems in governments, and increasing simplification of EO analysis tools.

The urban focus group identified several conditions and supporting factors to help realise this bright future. Communication and simplification are the key actions, as visible in the lists in the image below.

FIRE Forum Urban future of EO data uptake
Elements in the roadmap to the desired future of EO in urban applications (source: FIRE Forum)

Turning theory into practice: the case of Ecoten

We wrote about Ecoten before. This Czech startup (see their website here), that has evolved to 8 employees and growing, is one of several small specialist companies focusing on bringing EO solutions to urban development challenges. They attended the EXPANDEO conference to learn about challenges and opportunities. They also played an important role in the FIRE focus group discussions earlier this year.

At EXPANDEO we had the opportunity to interview Ecoten co-founder and CTO Sagnik Bhattacharjee about these challenges, and how Ecoten works with cities to realise benefits of EO for real-world problems:

Next steps

The FIRE project will continue throughout the remainder of 2022, after which its recommendations will be integrated into its consortium organisations who will be responsible to continue the work.

Also here at Groudstation urban development will remain an important topic, for example in our article series on Space for Smart Cities, where we showcase successful urban solutions and implementations.

Groundstation Special Report: Space for Smart Cities

Eurisy, Harmonia, and e-Shape urban solution portals

With awareness being one of the key challenges for EO data uptake, there are several initiatives that collect solutions, best practices, lessons learned and success stories. A short (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most comprehensive ones:

Eurisy repository of success stories

Over the last years Eurisy has created Europe’s largest repository of success stories on operational satellite applications. With this repository Eurisy strives to promote the use of satellite solutions for the benefit of numerous sectors. In the repository public authorities, agencies and SMEs from across Europe share their hands-on experience, to inspire their peers to follow suit. It is not about the technology; it is about how end users make it work for them. Find the Eurisy success stories on Smart Cities here.

Harmonia Project

The Harmonia project, which has just been just launched, will apply different EO solutions to different challenges in different pilot cities in Europe. See the pilot cities and associated projects here.


The e-Shape project looked at EO solutions and success stories for a number of applications, several of which are applicable to cities. The project is coming to an end this year, but the long list of showcases will remain to inspire future applications.

Join the Groundstation Webinar on EO for Cities on 21 June 2022

This Tuesday 21 June 2022, from 16:00 to 17:00 CET Groundstation will host a webinar on EO opportunities for cities. All info and FREE registration can be found here.

Open Calls Network - Climate Neutral and Smart Cities

Remco Timmermans

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