Photograph — Austin Mason

Leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) company, Ecopia Tech Corporation is set to develop what is regarded as the first comprehensive digital map of sub-Saharan Africa after securing a funding partnership with Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC).

The digital map is expected to include an estimated 342 million buildings, 3.8 million linear kilometres of roads and 582 million hectares of forests. According to reports, SDTC will provide $6.7 million to support this initiative with the complete extraction and digital map of the region expected to be created within one year.

“SDTC is proud to invest in a company like Ecopia, using cutting edge technologies to advance sustainability efforts across the world,” President and CEO of SDTC, Leah Lawrence said. Meanwhile, additional details about contributions from other project partners and datasets will be announced at a later date.

Digital maps are the future

Digital maps are used globally in several ways to improve societal well-being, achieve economic efficiency, and monitor environmental health. In a 2017 interview with Geospatial World, the Managing Director of Ordnance Survey International (OSI), Peter Hedlund, pointed out that in the United Kingdom, digital mapping is being used by regional and national governments, by businesses of diverse scale, utility companies, health care, insurance, emergency services and more.

However, without digital maps of their own, countries in sub-Saharan African have been lacking consistent access to accurate information about their geography. This often results in inefficiencies and inaccuracies in decision making across the continent.

Thus, by creating a comprehensive digital map of key features across the region, the project will empower governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and businesses to optimize their efforts on the ground as well as gain insights.

“This project … stands to positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions – by empowering better data-driven decisions to be made surrounding the environment, economy, and societies of Africa,” President & Co-Founder of Ecopia, Jon Lipinski said.

More so, an adequate spatial data structure helps reduce the costly exercise of trial and error, according to the OSI MD. “Quality location data can help save and make money. It can save time and increase efficiencies, and it allows you to work smarter and make the right decisions,” Hedlund noted.

The proposed map will enable a broad range of developmental activities such as logistical planning and route optimization to improve the distribution of vaccines and other humanitarian aid relief; the planning and development of sustainable energy infrastructure; and the ability to monitor and police deforestation.

“Digital mapping data should be the reference point for all future sustainable development planning and maintenance,” Hedlund declared. “A shared version of the truth — one true picture we can all work from.” While SDTC CEO Lawrence further added that the initiative will “enable a wide range of global sustainability and humanitarian benefits.”

Based in Canada, Ecopia specializes in extracting insight from geospatial big data. The company’s intelligent systems leverage advancements in artificial intelligence to convert high-resolution imagery of the earth into High Definition (HD) Vector Maps, which are embedded into critical applications around the world.

As stated on its website, the company’s mission is to digitize the world using AI, providing foundational information for critical decision-making; improving the welfare of societies, efficiency of economies, and health of environments.


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