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OneWeb searches for new uses for its satellites

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LEO satellite firm OneWeb has invited the wider world to come up with innovations based on its constellation of connectivity satellites, with the prize being the opportunity to develop those ideas alongside the firm.

It’s called Innovation Challenge 2022: Connectivity and Beyond, and its essentially an open invitation to anyone inclined to put their thinking cap on and sketch out products, solutions, and technologies that utilise OneWeb’s constellation of Low Earth orbit (LEO) comms satellites.

Successful entrants – be they engineers, industrial partners, academics, research professionals, and presumably butchers, bakers and candlestick makers if they have a good enough idea –  from around the world win the opportunity to collaborate with the firm ‘on the future of space-based applications’. European and Canadian entrants may also get the chance to join the European Space Agency (ESA) Sunrise Partnership project, pending eligibility.

The release seems to make pains to explain that the competition’s remit is very wide with regards to both the type of ideas it is looking for and who it is looking to work with in its pursuit of ‘any application that could be unlocked through OneWeb’s global constellation.’ It does however call out ‘applications including, but not limited to, telemedicine, crisis response, natural disaster monitoring, and data fusion.’

“OneWeb is fast approaching the completion of our global low Earth orbit communications network,” said OneWeb’s Innovation Programme Lead, Maite Carreras. “This is your chance to dream up the boldest idea for an application that our unique constellation can bring to life.”

“So far, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with a LEO satellite communications network. Last year’s challenge helped us to explore and accelerate key technologies for our future Gen-2 constellation, and this year we want to go one step further. This challenge is an extraordinary, maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to bring to reality applications that can revolutionise the future of humanity.”

There is something slightly akin here to the open door 5G labs, through which operators and kit vendors invite all the bright young things in the start up space to come in and rustle up some sort of killer app for 5G. One interpretation of why firms might want to do this is that since a really useful, obvious, and consumer mass market use of 5G is thus far proving elusive, any of the firms who have been bigging the tech up for years would love to be able to finally point to one and in some way have it in their stable.

It’s not exactly the same thing going on here, since it’s more clearly defined what LEO comms satellites bring to the table – namely provide connectivity where terrestrial towers don’t or can’t for whatever reason. That’s a bit reductive, but basically that’s why you’d turn to the stars for connectivity. It’s such a defined – perhaps even niche – function in fact, that it’s sometimes surprising how many players there are looking to serve it.

In a similar vein to the 5G labs, this does however feel like an attempt to reach out to the world and ask them what their own platform can be used for. Fair enough, but if they had managed to come up with any mega-useful use cases themselves for their constellations of satellites outside the obvious, they’d surely simply announce that instead.

 

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