Google is taking a major step in advancing technology development throughout Africa by deploying ‘Open Buildings,’ an artificial intelligence platform that will use satellite imagery to map buildings across the continent. Rather than relying on traditional surveys or expensive manual processes,
Google announced that its AI technology, Open Buildings, is being used to create maps of buildings across Africa. The tech giant stated that this new deployment was part of their effort to enhance the continent’s digital infrastructure.
Google Open Buildings is a different tool from Google Street View, relying on AI to create a digital version of buildings. It includes specific data regarding the construction, such as its precise location, shape, and size. It assigns a score reflecting its confidence in being recognized as an authentic building. Additionally, each building is given a Plus Code.
Google has gathered a complete set of AI data, including the shapes of more than 500 million buildings in 50 African countries, most smaller than 20 square meters.
Google has not provided any details concerning the kind of building, its exact location, or any other information that could help identify it. They have taken extra steps to protect people in risk-prone areas by excluding zones with potential conflict from their search engine.
Google highlighted the advantages the AI tool could offer both state and non-state actors, emphasizing its potential to benefit.
Google spokesperson says:
“From Lagos’ Makoko settlement to Dadaab’s refugee camps, millions of previously invisible buildings have popped up in our dataset. This improved building data helps refine the understanding of where people and communities live, providing actionable information for state and non-state actors looking to provide services from sanitation to education and vaccination.”
Google also declared that the Open Buildings AI would assist African nations in various aspects, including:
: Accurate measurements of the area occupied by buildings are essential for calculating population density. This data is crucial when it comes to providing necessary services to localities.
: Developing strategies to deal with floods, droughts, and other natural disasters is essential.
Gaining insight into settlement density can be beneficial for comprehending humanity’s influence on nature.
: In many areas, buildings need more formal addresses, impeding people’s access to social benefits and economic opportunities. To address this issue, building footprint data can be utilized to facilitate the implementation of digital addressing systems like Plus Codes.
: Gaining an understanding of population density and settlements makes it possible to plan for the necessary vaccines and determine optimal places to set up facilities. Additionally, this information is invaluable regarding targeted epidemiology and prevention efforts such as supplying mosquito nets.
: Statistics derived from building data can assist with forming national plans, such as determining the number of dwellings within an educational or healthcare facility’s catchment area, calculating the average distance to the closest hospital, and forecasting transport requirements.
Google announced that its AI Research Center in Accra, Ghana was responsible for the Open Buildings project. They stated that this center was set up in 2019 to join leading machine learning researchers and engineers dedicated to exploring AI research and its uses.
Google’s Open Buildings AI is a welcome addition to the mapping tools available for developers and relief organizations working in Africa. The ability to map buildings quickly and accurately will help these groups respond more effectively to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. We hope to see even faster and more efficient relief efforts with this new tool.