AWS Elemental aims for Mars

Video encoding pioneer Sam Blackman, the late Founder and CEO of Elemental, signed off an interview with International Space Station US Commander Peggy Whitson last year, orbiting 250 miles above Earth, with: “How do you imagine the future of NASA in terms of where advanced imaging will take you next? Say, maybe Mars?”

Blackman’s question was a fitting metaphor for the trajectory of Elemental as a company, entering a tough market and surmounting all odds to overhaul Envivio’s lead in software encoding – until eventually becoming a pivotal cog within the AWS cloud juggernaut today.

This brings us to an awkward stage in AWS Elemental’s journey, now that no customer announcement or new product launch conceals the element of surprise – but importantly this should not detract from the work happening at AWS Elemental which is helping mold the future of video streaming.

A glimpse of where AWS Elemental can possibly go from here was teased in a promotion for an AWS keynote session in collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NAB, taking place at the upcoming broadcast technology trade show. The session will continue from the 2017 panel which demonstrated a live 4K video stream from the space station to Las Vegas, building on the discussion between scientists and creative minds in using advanced imaging technologies.

Before we get too carried away, AWS Elemental’s Director of Global Market Relations, Laura Barber, said in an email this week: “While we won’t be doing a live video streaming from the surface of Mars, (34 million miles is a bit of a hurdle still), this session will provide very cool insights from NASA JPL as well as media leaders from 21st Century Fox, Discovery, and Amazon Prime Video about how cloud video and machine learning are used today and where they’ll take us tomorrow.”

Machine learning will of course be a hot topic across the board at NAB. The importance of these technologies for getting high quality video streamed from space is one angle, but for Earth’s media landscape, the machine learning applications being explored by AWS Elemental include automatic speech recognition, natural language processing, text-to-speech, deep learning-based image and video analysis.

AWS Elemental, NASA JLB and NAB will also show a fictional demo of a high pressure, OTT video event involving rovers on Mars. The story will include producers who are bogged down by challenges such as scaling up cloud resources to address demand spikes, personalized ad insertion, language translation, captioning and on-the-fly highlight package creation. We wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, but presumably AWS Elemental media workflow software swoops in to save the day, probably supported by Amazon CloudFront CDN, Amazon Elastic Load Balancing and Amazon Cloud infrastructure, with some big data and analytics capabilities perhaps thrown in for good measure.

We look forward to reporting what was discussed at the keynote and how AWS Elemental plans to steer these great minds to its benefit. As for how NASA intends to engineer AWS Elemental for future missions remains to be seen, but one burning question is if the immense uplink required to get the live encoder software into space, is capable of exceeding 250 miles to a craft traveling at 17,500mph? A company like Amazon does not acknowledge the definition of limitations.

Meanwhile, AWS Elemental finally released details this week about its Winter Olympics success story, supplying the technology allowing Korea’s Content Alliance Platform (CAP) and Australia’s Seven Network to scale up live coverage of the Games earlier this year.

It’s all about scalability for broadcasters when it comes to major sporting events, and with the Russia 2018 World Cup approaching this summer – some more customers could be sliding AWS Elemental’s way for scalability assistance.

Streaming some 140 million minutes of content during the Winter Olympics, Seven Network tapped AWS Elemental Live L505AE multi-channel live encoders for the job, processing up to eight live events simultaneously per unit. Also in Australia this week, AWS Elemental upgraded live content packaging services for ABC’s iview on-demand service, supplying its MediaConvert product. Encryption was supported using BuyDRM’s Key OS MultiKey product.

CAP is made up of Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The broadcast collaboration bought rights to stream the Winter Olympics on the Korean streaming platform Pooq to its 600,000 subscribers. In June last year, CAP migrated Pooq’s broadcast headend, including OTT services, over to AWS – using Live appliances to ingest content into AWS Cloud for processing and packaging, with 18 nodes of AWS Elemental Cloud providing live transcoding, delivering ABR streams to Amazon S3 for VoD distribution.

So has AWS Elemental peaked, or is it just beginning? Live streaming the next evolution of high resolution video from public space travel trips, suddenly doesn’t look too implausible.

“Actually, I think advanced imaging technologies are required to go to Mars, minimizing the risks for us. Imaging studies are critical to the decision process,” replied Commander Whitson.