US satellite imaging firm helps to crowdsource search for MH370

With Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 still missing as search and rescue operations enter their fourth day, an American satellite imaging company has started an initiative to crowdsource the search for the jet.

In this initiative, the public will help analyse high-resolution images for any sign of the missing plane.

ABC News reported that DigitalGlobe, based in Longmont, Colorado, has trained cameras from its five orbiting satellites on Saturday on the Gulf of Thailand region from where MH370 was last heard.

Luke Barrington, senior manager of Geospatial Big Data for DigitalGlobe, told ABC News that the satellite images gathered would then be made available for free to the public on a website called Tomnod.

DigitalGlobe would use a computer algorithm to see if users start tagging certain regions more than others and in-house satellite imaging experts would then follow up on leads, he said.

"Anyone can click on the link and begin searching the images, tagging anything that looks suspicious. Each pixel on a computer screen represents 0.5m on the ocean's surface.

"We'll say, 'here are our 10 top suspicious or interesting locations'. Is it really an aircraft wing that's been chopped in half or is this some other debris floating on the ocean?

"We may not be 100 percent sure, but if this is where I had to go pick a location to go looking for needles in this big haystack, this is where I'd start," he said.

Barrington said this was a way for people, who were not able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the peninsula or who could not fly planes to look there, to contribute and try to help find the missing Boeing 777-200ER aircraft bearing registration number 9M-MRO.

DigitalGlobe runs a fee-based First Look Event Service that compares before-and-after images for clients.

In the past month, the company activated the service to observe wildfires in Australia, violence in Ukraine and the aftermath of ice storms in Atlanta.

In November, the company launched a similar crowdsourcing campaign after Typhoon Haiyan devastated Southeast Asia and users, who placed more than 400,000 tags on images, helped identify 38,000 damaged buildings and 101,000 damaged homes.

MH370, which was on route from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing on Saturday, mysteriously went off the radar about1.30am between the east coast and Vietnam's southern coast.

The fate of the aircraft carrying 227 passengers of 14 nationalities and a Malaysian cabin crew of 12 remains unknown. – March 11, 2014.