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How many buildings are in Australia? Geoscape is counting.

How many buildings are there in Australia? While early estimates have put the figure at around 15 million structures, a novel mapping project using machine learning suggests it might be as much as 20 million- nearly one building for each of Australia’s 23 million citizens.

Very soon we will know an exact figure for the first time, because PSMA Australia is on track to deliver a nationwide accurate dataset of building attributes over the entirety of the Australian continent by the start of 2018. Provider of foundation data sets including the G-NAF addressing dataset, PSMA Australia, are now deep into their most ambitious undertaking yet, Geoscape.

As part of last week’s Locate17 and Digital Earth Symposium held in Sydney, PSMA Australia officially launched its award-winning Geoscape inittiative, in line with the release of the highly anticipated Sydney dataset and a new sample dataset.

Geoscape serves to enable organisations to make better decisions using location-based insights that were previously too costly or time consuming for most businesses to access.

The data includes building footprints and heights, roof construction, land cover, tree heights, the presence of solar panel installations and swimming pools, and more. The data can then be visualised using mapping platforms and 3D modelling tools.

This is the first time location information and data analytics have been combined and made available in this way, on a national level. Geoscape is achieved by analysing DigitalGlobe’s high-resolution satellite imagery with machine learning algorithms to automatically extract built environment attributes.

Among the many applications are insurance, construction, planning, design, environmental management and disaster response.

PSMA’s CEO, Dan Paull, and DigitalGlobe’s founder and CTO, Walter Scott, were in Sydney this week to discuss the global significance of Geoscape.

DigitalGlobe’s founder and CTO, Walter Scott, delivers his plenary at Locate17 and ISDE10 in Sydney last week.

Walter Scott described Geoscape as a “benchmark” project with international significance.

“Geoscape is really ploughing some new ground for us and we are very excited about that,” he said. “It’s a benchmark project for us in a variety of ways: it is a continent scale dataset that is accurate down to the individual building level and, frankly, to the individual tree canopy level.

“It’s what we consider to be a ‘show-me-there’ dataset, which means if I want to be able to zoom in on any particular location, I know that there’s accuracy for that location. Or, I am able to deal with data in massive aggregates and be able to do data analytics at truly a continental scale.”

Interestingly, PSMA Australia CEO, Dan Paull, indicated that he can see applications for the technology well beyond Australia, and envisages rolling this approach out internationally.

“Australia represents really great place to start with something this new,” Paull said. “So it’s a really different approach towards capturing information. It’s a scale that has previously just not been contemplated.”

“Geoscape is a breakthrough in location-based intelligence that provides essential infrastructure for Australia’s digital economy, and puts Australia on the world map as a leader in this technology.”

As for the number of buildings in Australia, Paull says that at present nobody knows an exact figure, but that will soon change.

“We don’t know how many building there are in the country,” he said. “We think there’s going to be somewhere between 15 million and 20 million. But soon we will know. We are going to know exactly, not too much longer. The number is probably going to be close to 20 million.”

Right now Geoscape datasets are available for Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, SA rural and QLD rural. The rollout plan maps out how the rest of the Australian datasets will become available over the course of 2017.

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