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Trees have many great qualities from providing shade and cleaner air in urban areas to cooling down the whole planet. In many cities, however, there is a lack of trees and oftentimes trees are not equally distributed between neighborhoods. In order to help spread trees and other greens evenly in urban areas, Google has released a new AI mapping tool called the Tree Canopy Lab.
The Tree Canopy Lab shows cities where they need to plant more trees using AI to quickly analyze photos of tree coverage. Nithya Sowrirajan, a director at Google Maps, explained to Fast Company how the tool works:
“The tree detection algorithm analyzes it from different angles and calculates the average tree canopy. We have public datasets where we bring in heat indexes. We’ve brought in population densities. And overlaying those is sort of like your magic calculation of where the populations are the most vulnerable due to low tree canopy cover.”
Research tells us that the tree canopy cover needs to be 40% in order to significantly lower temperatures. More than half of Los Angeles’ population reside in regions with less than 10% tree canopy cover. Now Los Angeles has become the first city to use the new tool and they plan to plant 90 000 trees this year.
Luckily, Google's new tool can help Los Angeles identify the main areas with the fewest trees and the highest heat risk. After that the tool can recognize much more specific places to plant the trees. For instance, in some areas, like apartment complexes, there isn’t much room to plant trees and that may mean bigger changes. In some cases, a street might need to be redesigned to permit larger trees to grow there.
Because of this new tool, Los Angeles has a plan and a map with detailed information about where trees already exist and where in the city more needs to be planted. In the near future, Google hopes to keep developing the Tree Canopy Lab together with Los Angeles and hopefully make it available to other cities shortly.
Pssst… Global Forest Watch, which is a similar tool that tracks deforestation in remote areas by analyzing satellite data was developed by the same company as the Tree Canopy Lab.