clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Facebook is making a map of every building in the world

Facebook wants the whole world to have internet access.
Facebook wants the whole world to have internet access.
David Ramos/Getty Images

Facebook is making a map of every human-occupied building on Earth so that one day, people in the most remote areas of the world can also worry about what to do when their mom friends them on Facebook.

This new mapping project is part of Facebook's Connectivity Lab, a group tasked with using drones, satellites, and lasers to improve internet access in developing countries. About 10 percent of the world still lives in remote or rural areas without internet connectivity.

The project has analyzed 21.6 million square kilometers' worth of satellite imagery — about 350 terabytes of data. And it's led to a much clearer idea of where buildings are in remote areas.

Knowing where people live in relation to each other will help Facebook figure out the best way to give these communities internet access.

The maps are much better than the information we used to have. Here's a comparison of Facebook's map (left) of Naivasha, Kenya, with a map from Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network. On the left, you can see the clear satellite images Facebook is basing its analysis on; on the right, the orange squares are the next best representation of human population distributions in the same area.

DigitalGlobe satellite image of Naivasha, Kenya (left) and gridded population of the world v4 from CIESIN at Columbia University (right).

"Villages lined up along a river or road could be connected by a string of terrestrial point-to-point links, while scattered settlements might require an aerial backhaul solution such as unmanned aerial vehicles or satellites," Facebook said in its blog post announcing the project.

Facebook is currently developing drones that would be able to beam internet signals down to remote areas without wireless access; this map will help inform the company where to use this technology.

At the World Mobile Convention, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday that the social media giant plans to make the project open to the public this year, with hopes that it will have other uses as well.

"We believe this data has many more impactful applications, such as socio-economic research and risk assessment for natural disasters," Facebook wrote in its blog, adding that the team plans to work with Center for International Earth Science Information Network this year to update population data.

Read a more technical account of what Facebook is doing here.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.