From 'little idea' to NASA award: Ont. developers convert satellite imagery into beautiful sounds
CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from CTV Kitchener’s Randy Steinman
Published Friday, March 8, 2019 9:09AM EST
A team of app developers from Ontario has created an award-winning online tool that converts satellite imagery into beautiful sounds.
“There’s a lot of satellites orbiting the earth every day and they’re all taking images of the earth,” Alex McVittie, a University of Waterloo geomatics graduate and the lead behind the SongSAT project, told CTV Kitchener. “The satellite data, all the individual pixels, we translate that into the appropriate scale.”
The work has even earned the group a NASA award.
So far, topographies as diverse as Saskatchewan’s grasslands, the Russian Arctic, China’s mountains, the coastal waters of Australia and Central Africa’s forests have been put to lush tunes. The group behind SongSAT has done that by creating an algorithm that converts satellite imagery pixels into notes on a musical scale.
“You don’t really get to actually hear what the land has to talk about,” fellow SongSAT developer and University of Waterloo geomatics student Colin Tuen Muk said. “It is pretty soothing depending on what type of music you want to listen to and what type of land type.”
The team plans to put even more landscapes to music in an effort to dazzle and help the visually impaired hear different parts of our planet too.
“It’s allowing everyone to understand how beautiful the earth is,” SongSAT developer and University of Waterloo geomatics student Corina Kwong explained.
Nichole Robertson is a piano teacher at nearby Wilfrid Laurier University who is also visually impaired.
“I haven’t heard anything like it before ever,” Robertson told CTV Kitchener. “It’s a really interesting concept… We’re taught mapping when we’re really little, so we do understand the globe. And I just think adding music is an interesting element because it is pretty important to most people that are blind.”
The group of four developers, who call themselves Team Salinity, was one of six winners at NASA’s 2018 International Space Apps Challenge, winning in the “Most Inspirational” category.
“I didn’t realize how inspirational our project was,” Kwong said. “We took this little idea and it became something so big.”
That win has earned the team a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“Connecting people around the world through music… that’s really the goal, to have everyone enjoy what we create,” Tuen Muk said.