Orbital Witness - Revolutionising Real Estate Legal Due Diligence with Satellite Imagery

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Objectives of the service

The objective of this project is to demonstrate the commercial and technical feasibility of providing archives of high-resolution satellite imagery, augmented by property datasets, to real estate lawyers (and other property professionals). 

Many questions in real estate law have a historic dimension (e.g. rights acquired through prescription and adverse possession, lawful use and development etc). Currently, there is no readily available or realistic way for a real estate lawyer to “look back in time” and make enquiries of a historical nature. Currently, a real estate lawyer might look to solve the problem via a lengthy investigative process involving statutory declarations or manually acquiring aerial photography. 

This project is therefore demonstrating the ability for users to be more informed at the outset of a property transaction and, crucially, be able to use satellite imagery to “look back in time” to understand legal issues affecting the use and development of property.

Users and their needs

Initially, target market users are commercial real estate lawyers, with expansion routes into residential conveyancing solicitors and legal indemnity (title) insurance providers to be validated in this project. 

These users value both the immediacy and reliability of information in a real estate transaction. Therefore, the needs of a real estate lawyer can be solved by providing: 

  • Archives of high-resolution satellite imagery, reliably time stamped;
  • Contextual information sourced from HM Land Registry and local authorities;
  • An intuitive platform and user-interface that can allow for reports to be created. 

The secondary user segment, in the form of title insurance, is delivered value through: 

  • Satellite imagery forming a reliable dataset to allow for more accurate risk pricing of legal indemnity insurance policies (e.g. continued use of a site, ransom strips etc.).
  • More standardised requests for insurance arriving from the real estate lawyer, streamlining the process for returning a range of quotes to the lawyer. 

Potential future users include surveyors and real estate investors.

England and Wales, United Kingdom.

Service/ system concept

The service constitutes a web-based application combining archives of high-resolution satellite imagery, information from HM Land Registry and Ordnance Survey, and data held by Local Authorities visualised into a user-friendly interface (as shown in high-level system architecture diagram below). 

The service is designed to allow a user to be capable of switching between these data sources and downloading, storing, and sharing documents and imagery that they rely upon whilst conducting their work in Orbital Witness. 

Project activities also cover the development of collaboration tools to allow multiple users to work with the same information, and report generation features to create notes and outputs with the satellite imagery as a base layer. 

The final service will also include user behaviour tracking and usage analytics features to increase the iterative product intelligence and progress towards product market fit that can be gained during the demonstration phase of commercialisation.


Space Added Value

Orbital Witness is using archives of high-resolution (sub-1m) optical satellite imagery. This provides enough clarity for real estate professionals to be able to spot important detail such as, e.g. a change of use at a site, a structural change to a property, or a boundary movement.

The historical dimension within the archives of satellite operators will become a reliable legal indication of the state or use of a property at a given point in time. The space added value of this satellite imagery provides the first standardised view for real estate professionals to visualise historic development of a site.

Meanwhile, the archives of satellite imagery provide an instant manner to look at the history of a site and avoid lengthy investigative legal enquiries.

Current Status

The project was successfully concluded, and the pilot demonstration activities validated the integration of satellite imagery archives and complementary datasets to production-ready real estate intelligence platform. Orbital Witness is already a commercial project with the first customers adopting the platform even before the end of the project. Nonetheless, an extension to the project is being prepared, given the opportunity to expand the application of Orbital Witness outside of the legal industry to insurance and surveyors.

Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 27 February 2020 - Created: 27 June 2019