Government-owned company PSMA has officially launched what it says is a world first in geospatial mapping technology, providing high-resolution built environment data that will soon cover the whole of Australia.

Geoscape will provide data sets including a digital representation of every building in Australia with a roof over nine square metres in urban areas, 3D attributes such as eave height and maximum roof height, zoning, solar panels, swimming pools, roof materials, tree coverage and surface coverage – linked to geocoded address and property data.

While some of this information is already available, the data sets are typically very small, PSMA chief executive Dan Paull told The Fifth Estate.

“The big difference is the scale to which this data is available,” he said.

Dan Paull, Chief Executive Officer, PSMA Australia

“What we’re talking about is the whole of the Australian continent,” produced in a consistent, uniform, high-quality way, and in a form that supports analytics.

“Questions can be asked and answered at the continental scale.”

Geoscape promises to help decision-making in a number of areas, including policy making and service delivery, urban and regional planning, transportation, asset management, risk estimation, disaster response and infrastructure rollout.

“It will be used by governments to improve Australia’s future planning, development and management, including everything from building smarter cities to keeping people safe during fires, floods and other natural disasters,” Mr Paull said.

The product is currently available for Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra, as well as rural Queensland and South Australia, but the whole of the country is expected to be mapped by early 2018.

The speed at which the product is being rolled out is due to a partnership with geospatial company DigitalGlobe.

Its chief technology officer and founder Walter Scott told The Fifth Estate the company used satellites, machine learning algorithms and crowdsourcing to collect and interpret the data.

“The convergence of high-resolution satellite imagery, cloud computing and machine learning technologies has created some incredibly exciting opportunities for organisations to analyse man-made and natural environments at country and continent scales more quickly and efficiently than ever before,” he said.

There will be a number of sustainability benefits to come out of the initiative, Mr Paull said.

“For example, we can start to analyse the proportion of grassland available in an area to the amount of hard surface, and what the impact is on flooding potential, and the impacts on climate and heat retention.”

This data will help governments and urban planners to better plan cities and counteract problems such as the urban heat island effect.

The datasets will also be helpful for enabling smart cities, particularly around the development of a 5G network.

“Signal propagation of 5G networks is much more susceptible to the built environment and vegetation [than 4G],” Mr Paull said. “Understanding how those signals integrate with the built environment is essential. Data is the lifeblood of smart cities.”

The insurance industry will also be a significant beneficiary, with more granular data providing improved understanding of risk factors like the relationship between trees and building damage, flooding potential and fire risk – enabling more targeted premiums to be set.

While PSMA is owned by federal, state and territory governments (who may have their own open data policies), it is a commercial enterprise and the service is not free. PSMA licences the use of its data to a number of partners that then offer their own solutions, or raw data can be purchased.

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