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September Event Recap: AEO Mini

On Wednesday, 25th of August, the ‘Advancing Earth Observation Mini Forum 2021’ hosted by Earth Observation Australia was held online with almost 300 participants attending. The Advancing Earth Observation Mini Forum 2021, or AEO Mini, was held with the purpose of providing education, entertainment and connection opportunities for individuals either interested in, working in or using Earth observation technologies.

With the AEO Mini organised into different sessions such as plenaries, pechakuchas, town halls, learning labs and debates, the event brought industry leaders together to give insight into the future of Earth observation, improvements in the industry, as well as their experiences working in the industry itself.

Organised by Dr Karen Joyce, member of the management committee of Earth Observation Australia, the event began with plenary keynote speaker, Dr Trevor Dhu, Microsoft’s Asia Lead in Sustainability spoke about how Earth observation data alone would not be sufficient when ensuring sustainability in the Asia region.

This was then followed by Pechakuchas by different speakers such as our very own, Taofiq Huq (Spiral Blue) in addition to, Laura Duncanson (NASA), Matthew Alger (GeoScience Australia/ANU), Bethany Melville (University of Tasmania) and Lieutenant Colonel Lisa Bush (Australian Defence Force).

In the Pechakucha session speakers were given a unique format for their talks - 20 slides for 20 seconds each. This helps create the environment for fast paced but engaging talks. For his team, our CEO Taofiq Huq spoke about his background and motivations for starting Spiral Blue, and Spiral Blue’s progress to date.

“The talk was certainly unlike any others I’ve given,” Taofiq said after the talk. “I enjoyed preparing and giving the talk, and also enjoyed the talks from the other speakers.”

Learning Lab

The Learning Lab that Spiral Blue ran was run by myself, regarding the topic of Design Thinking. The session was to run through the first stage of the Design Thinking process, Empathy.

The importance of discussing Design Thinking was due to the fact that the Earth observation industry could generally be guilty of focusing on developing new technologies from a technology push perspective rather than considering what clients needed. This would result in excellent technologies that user’s didn’t want or need.

The quote I proposed was from Henry Ford, saying, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Design Thinking was a tool that product developers could use to discover problems that people had.

Portrait of Henry Ford

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative user-centric method to create more meaningful solutions that truly solves a user's needs. In groups, attendees were guided through the problem discovery process and used empathy mapping tools with a real user in order to better understand user needs and problems.

Attendees joined me in the exercise to learn about the 5 stages of Design Thinking which included, Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Testing.


In the Empathy stage, a developer’s job is to understand how users think, feel and act in a certain scenario. They need to understand why users are doing that thing in the first place. Developer’s will then interview, learn and try to live out the experiences that the users had. One effective method to reach a deeper level of understanding was to remove any preconceived assumptions developers had about the user’s situation by putting on a beginner’s mindset.


Then in the Define stage, once developers had a deep understanding of what users are experiencing, they would need to define what the problem is. Could it be a lack of access to something or are there too many obstacles to perform an action? Here developers can use a first principles mindset to summarise the problem the users endured.


Once the problem had been defined, developers needed to be as creative as possible to brainstorm as many solutions as they could. This is crucial to note that the solution development is after the problem scoping process. This is the Ideate stage. Here, developers try to think as divergently as possible. Brainstorming wild and wacky ideas whilst being as creative as possible.


Once decided on a solution, that’s when developers would begin to Prototype. This meant creating a cheap and extremely fast means to quickly develop the fundamental functions of that solution; a low fidelity working model. Developers had to make the skateboard before the car.


Then developers would go back to their user, then test and repeat the process again. The faster one went through each iteration, the faster feedback developers would receive and the more refined the solution becomes.

The First Stage: Empathy

Empathy means to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Not only understanding but also sharing the feelings and emotions of another. The best way to empathise is to live and breathe what someone else is going through. For example, if a developer wanted to understand how urban environments impact mobility impaired individuals, they should sit in a wheelchair and see if they could get to their local shops easily.

Developers should talk to users and learn about what they’re going through and see what their experience is like. In order to do that, one must ask questions to the users.

A Guide To Empathy Questions

Asking empathy questions may seem a bit intimidating at first, but the following 5 points can provide a guide to understanding a user better.

  1. Adopt a beginner’s mindset and avoid preconceived assumptions.

  2. Ask open ended questions to get more information. Instead of asking, “Did you have breakfast this morning?”, ask, “How did you have breakfast this morning?”

  3. Ask ‘WHY’ 5 times to gain an in-depth understanding of the situation. User actions might seem obvious to anyone first, but perhaps their intentions might be different to what you suspect.

  4. Probe for something interesting such as their pains or frustrations

Empathy Mapping

A great tool to document the findings of an interview is through empathy mapping. An empathy map is a canvas broken into multiple sections consisting of what the user's pains and gains are, as well as what they hear, think, feel, see, say and do during the process. During an interview, developers can use this map to document their interview findings.

‘Working from Home’ was chosen as the case study for attendees to investigate and attendees interviewed and questioned each other from the guide and questions that were presented earlier in the presentation.

The results of the interview resulted in the above empathy map, which documented one of the attendees experiences from working at home.

About Spiral Blue

Spiral Blue is a Sydney SME focused on building the next generation of Earth observation services with artificial intelligence and Space Edge Computing. Spiral Blue technology has applications in defence, city planning, utilities, and other industries. Founded in 2018, the company has recently launched its first Space Edge Zero prototypes to orbit, and is now awaiting results of this in-orbit demonstration.

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