Ordnance Survey’s Zambian AI Map Paves the Way

In 2021 Ordnance Survey (OS) helped support the creation of an automated, digital base map of Lusaka, Zambia, in partnership with the Zambia Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Zambia Ministry of Local Government, International Growth Centre, and Commonwealth Association of Architects.

A base map is a valuable tool in understanding and analysing socio-economic growth, and Africa is urbanising at the fastest rate in the world. Unplanned urbanisation can lead to poor quality of life, as increased development of informal settlements requires the more expensive alternative of retrofitting infrastructure such as water, electricity and sewage.

OS created the base map from aerial imagery, using an automated process. Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques enabled OS to teach a computer system to look for, label, and vectorise features in images, using training data. Such features included Roofed Structures, Natural Surface, Sealed Surface, Roads (including road networks), grass, trees and water.

This algorithm classifies and learns what the various features are, so when imagery passes through, it produces a map based on the features it has been taught. That technology then automatically, accurately and quickly creates a map. This advanced automated process can generate a new basemap in a tenth of the time that previous traditional manual techniques would have taken.

The development of the basemap means it is now possible to create a map of any area quickly and accurately from aerial, satellite, or drone imagery, to give planners a clearer picture of Lusaka’s rapid urbanisation. The land required for urban housing supply is unable to meet the demand and led to high rate of urban informal settlements. The OS basemap now provides insight into the extent and growth of informal settlements and has been used for sustainable urban development planning.

Applying these digital maps, and in much shorter timeframes, also enables the Zambian government to better plan their investment in critical public infrastructure and services such as sanitation and health facilities, as well as land administration, land tenure, safety and services, utilities and connectivity, and transport planning. Through this detail, the city can target gaps in critical public services to help formalise the informal settlements which make up 70% of Lusaka’s population. All of which goes towards making a real difference to the living standards of those citizens.

Dr Emmanuel Tembo, Head of Land Titling, Zambia Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources said: “Since introducing OS’s AI-capable basemap it has unlocked new capabilities in geospatial analysis to support policy planning and decisions. It has enabled the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to quickly update its maps and to create different, thematic maps using AI capabilities.

“OS’s ground-breaking technology means that our Government can make informed decisions quickly about numerous issues including urban housing policy and climate change adaptation issues.”

Juliet Ezechie, Head of International at OS said: “Detailed mapping is essential for meeting the challenges of urban living and can be a powerful tool for transformational change in sustainable cities. Understanding the true nature of the real world leads to informed decisions that can improve quality of life for citizens.

“Our creation of a scalable, replicable, digital base map is not only relevant to cities such as Lusaka. It has far-reaching benefits; nationally, regionally, and even globally. It provides crucial information on aspects such as population and density, the number of built structures, the location of infrastructure including water and energy supplies. To better target investment. To improve the application and development of services.

“Helping an entire nation realise the potential and power of geospatial data is a crowning achievement for OS. The knowledge that we are helping Lusaka to see a better place is extremely humbling and we are honoured that our efforts have been recognised by two industry-leading awards.”

Website Ordnance Survey

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