Using convolutional networks and satellite imagery to identify patterns in urban environments at a large scale
Adrian Albert (MIT & SLAC);Marta Gonzalez (MIT)
Urban planning applications (energy audits, investment, etc.) require an understanding of built infrastructure and its environment, i.e., both low-level, physical features (amount of vegetation, building area and geometry etc.), as well as higher-level concepts such as land use classes (which encode expert understanding of socio-economic end uses). This kind of data is expensive and labor-intensive to obtain, which limits its availability (particularly in developing countries). We analyze patterns in land use in urban neighborhoods using large-scale satellite imagery data (which is available worldwide from third-party providers) and state-of-the-art computer vision techniques based on deep convolutional neural networks. For supervision, given the limited availability of standard benchmarks for remote-sensing data, we obtain ground truth land use class labels carefully sampled from open-source surveys, in particular the Urban Atlas land classification dataset of $20$ land use classes across $~300$ European cities. We use this data to train and compare deep architectures which have recently shown good performance on standard computer vision tasks (image classification and segmentation), including on geospatial data. Furthermore, we show that the deep representations extracted from satellite imagery of urban environments can be used to compare neighborhoods across several cities. We make our dataset available for other machine learning researchers to use for remote-sensing applications.