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Finding and Connecting People in Africa to Infrastructure Using Remote Sensing and Geospatial Optimization

Infrastructure construction proposals take a long time to draft and are often not rigorous. Non-rigorous proposals make it difficult for a policymaker to decide which proposal to implement. We have created a system that enables a policymaker to quickly create rough infrastructure plans that are grounded in geospatial and mathematical rigor and to compare the effect of different policies on cost and layout. Our system is thus a decision-support tool for policymakers responsible for infrastructure.

We have created a prototype of the system which will be ready for field testing by Columbia SIPA students in Spring 2010. Beyond the classroom, there is a lot of work to be done to make it ready for the field, but with enough hard work, we hope to raise the bar for technical rigor in infrastructure construction proposals and bring water, electricity and internet to more people sooner.

We used Python to transform an elaborate, multistep process for finding and connecting households in satellite images into a streamlined, web-based planning experience. I’ll also explain how different open-source libraries empowered a small team of developers.

Some of the geospatial technologies in our stack include GDAL, PROJ, GeoServer and OpenLayers. The web applications are built using Pylons and SQLAlchemy. We are also considering scaling the application using AMQP but this is future work.

Photo of Roy Hyunjin Han

Roy Hyunjin Han

Earth Institute of Columbia University

Roy Hyunjin Han is a Lead Software Engineer in the Modi Research Group at Columbia University on a team creating web-based tools for planning infrastructure. The tools automate the acquisition of geospatial information from satellite imagery using machine learning. Furthermore, the tools recommend infrastructure choice and placement using pricing models and optimization algorithms pioneered by the lab. He has developed software for industries ranging from retail and neurogenetics to technology transfer and airline reservation systems. He lives in Hell’s Kitchen with his girlfriend of three years.