Legal Geek of the Week: Orbital Witness
Legal Geek - 31/08/2017

At Legal Geek we get pretty excited by LegalTech. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning after all and we are super stoked these guys are coming to the Legal Geek Confernce. Yet only through the beautiful medium of Gifs can we accurately convey our excitement when we spied an early-stage start-up describing itself as ‘SpaceTech-meets-LegalTech’:

Those eager Minions were pretty much us when we first came across Orbital Witness. So it was with great excitement this week that we managed to catch up with Co-Founder Edmond Boulle and pick his brains, with our first question being:

How?

“In essence, Orbital Witness provides a platform which collects and analyses very high resolution satellite imagery and overlays it with data from other sources such as the Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, and local councils to help lawyers working in real estate due diligence,” Boulle explains.

“The technology doesn’t just speed up due diligence, it allows lawyers to offer a radically  improved level of insight. Using Orbital Witness they can highlight risks to clients, potentially even deal-breakers, on day one of the due diligence process. This process currently relies on data from multiple, disaggregated sources which can take weeks to arrive, meaning that lawyers typically start drafting before they have much of the information they need. Problems arise when risks come to light only once considerable time and effort has been expended and deadlines are approaching. Imagine instead you could determine within seconds, for example, whether some part of a property being acquired had been developed without planning permission, or see evidence of a neighbour making use of part of the property over time that may indicate potential rights acquired by the neighbour. ”

 

Orbital Witness’s offering relies on the sophistication and detail of the satellite imagery it provides, which comes from multiple, commercial satellite operators and, as we learn, smashes Google Earth out of the atmosphere.

Satellite imagery of this quality has already appeared in other industries, Boulle explains, with financial traders even using it to monitor the change over time in the number of cars in a the car parks of large retail store chains to gain insights into a company’s financial health. Yes, it’s that good.

Whilst satellite imagery is at the core of Orbital Witness, it would be a mistake to box the platform as a super-strength telescope for real estate lawyers.

The platform’s services go well beyond that, covering three key areas:

  1. The platform centrally curates and illustrates critical information that lawyers rely on to carry out due diligence on a property (e.g. property boundary and ownership data)
  2. The satellite imagery not only provides a detailed picture of the current landscape, it can also help a lawyer go back in time and gain historic insights into the land in question (e.g. to determine whether a structure or property has stood for enough time to acquire rights that prevent any future enforcement action by a planning authority)).
  3. Artificial intelligence is also at work by providing automated identification and alerts to transactional risks, reducing the scope for human error and allowing lawyers to work more efficiently.

Orbital Witness may still be in the throes of its development phase (with the start of 2018 ear-marked as the target date for going to market), yet the traction which Boulle and his co-founders Francesco Liucci and Will Pearce have received since founding Orbital Witness five months ago, marks them out for a big year in 2018.

Between May and July this year they participated in Mishcon de Reya’s highly-coveted MDR Lab programme whilst they also received a value-in-kind investment from the technology and innovation centre Satellite Applications Catapult in Oxford giving them access to a pool of satellite imagery analysts, software engineers and designers.

But perhaps what marks them out the most is that they are true SpaceTech and LegalTech geeks.

The trio all met whilst working for the Satellite Applications Catapult in 2016, with each co-founder having cut their own distinguished path in SpaceTech to reach that point.

Boulle himself worked for the European Space Agency as a trainee in the legal department; Pearce took up internships with the London Economics Space Team in his university holidays, and Liucci acted as a business mentor for the EU’s Copernicus Masters Accelerator programme whilst founding various tech start-ups..

Orbital Witness are by some distance the most early-stage start-up to be featured as our Legal Geek of the Week but they left us feeling like this:

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