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Our Mission

ESA’s Φ-lab mission is to accelerate the future of Earth Observation (EO) by means of transformational innovations, i.e. innovations able to completely transform or create entire industries via new technologies, with the aim to strengthen the world-leading competitiveness of the European EO industrial and research sectors.

The Φ-lab is a catalyst for Earth Observation innovative and transformative ideas, and a bridge within Earth Observation’s ecosystem of innovative players which connects the actors of Industry, Investors, and Academia to foster entrepreneurial initiatives.

The Φ-lab has been established to exploit and stimulate the favourable conditions of the European Earth Observation market, by boosting its innovative ethos to enable a vibrant and worldwide competitive commercial sector.

Read more on the Φ-lab brochure.

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Our innovation model

We operate and manage the full range of the innovation pipeline: we create or discover new transformational ideas, select and nurture the good ones, develop the “solution” by testing and maturing them, and invest in the best ones via the InCubed programme to reach the market adoption.

This is a unique model that joins the deep technical content we can generate (internally or externally to ESA) with the business view to make successful investments.

Our Offices

φ-lab Explore Office

Explore the innovation universe and connect the EO sensor revolution with the digital revolution

φ-lab Invest Office

Stimulate competitiveness growth fostering entrepreneurial initiatives by Investment actions from ESA Member States and the investors market

The Φ-lab is organised into two offices, the Explore Office mainly focused in generating innovation from inside and outside ESA and managing the initial part of the innovation pipeline, while the Invest Office takes the generated and discovered innovations to the market via the Invest Actions and the InCubed co-funding programme.

The Φ-lab is based in ESA-ESRIN in Frascati (Italy), and counts about 25 members amongst ESA staff, research fellows, Academia and Industry Visiting Researchers, and Visiting Professors.

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Our History

The Φ-lab concept is very recent: Spring 2017. Its constitution has been enriched with ideas from a journey made by some of ESA executives into USA Silicon Valley where they saw examples of organisations nurturing innovation in inspirational environments.

In this short period until today, the ESA Φ-lab has become the reference in the Earth Observation sector for transformational innovation and business investment. The Φ-lab has already collected many successes that we report here.

Our Successes

We have contributed to the birth of the Φ-sat programme, supported the AI elements of Φ-sat-1 and now Φ-sat-2, currently in development.
Φ-sat-1 is a first example of AI deep learning functionalities based on Convolutional Neural Networks and was successfully launched in September 2020.
We have signed 12 collaborations with several entities like industries, research entities, scientific AI associations and institutions. They provide the stimuli to many of the activities we do.
The InCubed program, quite recently, has tripled its fund size at the last Ministerial Conference in 2019 and reached 103M€ subscriptions from 18 European countries. We aim to leverage off the achieved successes and the great feedbacks from industries, and expand this programme to all ESA Member States and increase its impact in the ecosystem.
As of end of 2020 InCubed has invested in 32 activities for a total value of 53M€ with an average co-funding rate of 62%.
In three years of operations we have published 43 papers between international journals, conferences and as editors of books.
The Φ-lab, in collaborations with its 10 Visiting Professors, is setting the European Research and Development agenda within AI for the Earth Observation thematic.
Within our open lab programme we have hosted 12 visiting researches from industries (e.g. AIRBUS and ICEYE), universities, research centres etc.
Our Visiting Professor programme entails 10 leading researchers and professors that help us in defining our research agenda.

Core staff, internal ESA Researcher, external visiting researchers and professors, working in collaboration with the Φ-lab and across ESA

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