14–17 Oct 2019

Predicting the quality of life from satellite imagery

Ganes Kesari (Gramener), Soumya Ranjan (Gramener)
11:5512:35 Thursday, 17 October 2019
Location: King's Suite - Balmoral
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 1 rating)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Executives, policy makers, and data scientists




In large developing countries like India, it’s tough to base policy decisions on data. Of a population of 1.3 billion, 70% reside in rural areas with minimal digital trails. Large governmental initiatives such as the national census are collected once every 10 years. Despite the best of intentions, they aren’t comprehensive and quickly get out of sync with reality.

Ganes Kesari and Soumya Ranjan explore how satellite imagery offers an alternate ground truth that’s accurate at high resolution, available across periods as a time series, easily accessible, and is relatively inexpensive. While this is a rich source of visual information, the challenge has been in processing images and generating useful insights. The advances in deep learning have helped solve this last hurdle, placing enormous power in people’s hands and paving the way for socioeconomic data analytics.

This information helps answer basic questions about India’s patterns by applying deep learning on satellite imagery, enriched with census data, and using advanced analytics approaches. It can show the extent and pace of urbanization over time, provide a comparison of census-based indicators of poverty and visual indicators of development from aerial imagery, and identify anomalies observed in census-measured factors such as literacy, employment, and healthcare when viewed from the lens of satellite imagery.

Ganes and Soumya explain the inspiration of their work, Stefano Ermon et al, who used night light as a proxy to detect poverty in Africa. Deep learning requires a lot of labeled data; in this case, they used transfer learning to get over the initial hurdle. Planet.com releases some open data, and they used SpaceNet data for training the model’s weights, which was then adapted to the specific satellite imagery of villages and cities in India.

Three networks were trained to do three different tasks, extract building footprints, extract land use and road patterns, and extract night lighting patterns. The output of these three networks was structured and combined with the district-level census data to be used as an input for the socioeconomic analytics. Statistical techniques and machine learning algorithms were shed light on demographic insights that can drive potential policy decisions.

Prerequisite knowledge

  • A basic understanding of data and its application

What you'll learn

  • Gain approaches to process satellite imagery using deep learning
  • Learn novel applications of insights from aerial imagery by enriching them with conventional data
  • Understand the implications of demographic insights for policy decisions
Photo of Ganes Kesari

Ganes Kesari


Ganes Kesari is a cofounder and head of analytics at Gramener, where he leads analytics and innovation in data science, advising enterprises on deriving value from data science initiatives and leading applied research in deep learning at Gramener AI Labs. He’s passionate about the confluence of machine learning, information design, and data-driven business leadership and strives to simplify and demystify data science.

Photo of Soumya Ranjan

Soumya Ranjan


Soumya Ranjan is a data scientist at Gramener AI Labs specializing in using deep learning and machine learning techniques to solve problems across verticals like healthcare, environment conservation, and safety. He’s passionate about data and adores narrating beautiful stories around it, thanks to his experience in building data visualization tools and libraries covering real-time election analysis and visualization. Soumya strongly believes in making quality education free and accessible. To this end, he teaches at universities, is involved in discussing AI/ML curriculum, and has worked as a code reviewer and mentor at Udacity and Thinkful.

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