Tech giant, Google, said it has deployed a new AI technology, Open Buildings, to map buildings across Africa.
Google’s Open Buildings is different from Google Street View and uses AI to provide a digital footprint of buildings. It also provides the exact location and polygon outline of each building, its size, a confidence score for it being detected as a valid building, and a Plus Code.
Google set the full dataset of the AI encompasses 50 African countries and includes the outlines of at least 500 million buildings across the continent, the majority of which are less than 20 square meters.
There is, however, no information about the type of building, its street address, or any identifying data. Google said it has also excluded sensitive areas such as conflict zones to protect vulnerable populations.
Benefits of the tool: Highlighting the benefits of the AI tool for state and non-state actors, Google said:
- “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.”
In addition, Google said the Open Buildings AI will help African countries in the following areas:
- Population mapping: Building footprints are a key ingredient for estimating population density. This information is vital to planning services for communities.
- Humanitarian response: To plan the response to a flood, drought, or other natural disasters.
- Environmental science: Knowledge of settlement density is useful for understanding the human impact on the natural environment.
- Addressing systems: In many areas, buildings do not have formal addresses. This can make it difficult for people to access social benefits and economic opportunities. Building footprint data can help with the rollout of digital addressing systems such as Plus Codes.
- Vaccination planning: Knowing the density of the population and settlements helps to anticipate demand for vaccines and the best locations for facilities. This data is also useful for precision epidemiology, as well as prevention efforts such as mosquito net distribution.
- Statistical indicators: Buildings data can be used to help calculate statistical indicators for national planning, such as the number of houses in the catchment areas of schools and health centres, mean travel distances to the nearest hospital, or demand forecast for transportation systems.
Google said the Open Buildings project was led by its team at the AI Research Center in Accra, Ghana. According to the company, the centre was launched in 2019 to bring together top machine learning researchers and engineers dedicated to AI research and its applications.