Google wants to make cities greener with this nifty tool

It's called the Tree Canopy Lab.

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A new tool unveiled by Google this week is all about making the planet greener, one tree at a time. The Tree Canopy Lab is Google's project to encourage planting and growing more trees in cities around the country. It's starting with Los Angeles, which seems like a timely selection given the California wildfires and the subsequent smog in the city. Here's a quick glimpse at the pilot.


If successful, the Tree Canopy Lab could strengthen and speed up community efforts to not only plant more trees but plant them where they're most needed. Google is packing the tool with copious amounts of aerial imagery, heat map data, and population density information. And already the tool has garnered praise from locals, including Los Angeles first city forest officer Rachel Malarich.

According to The Verge, Malarich said, "We’ll be able to really home in on where the best strategic investment will be in terms of addressing that urban heat." Given that the tool is open to the public, not only can urban planners gain access to the data but also everyday people like you and me.

How it works — Google uses aerial imagery from airplanes and satellites that enables the Tree Canopy Lab team to map tree density in and around Los Angeles and then figure out which areas that could do with more trees. This aerial imagery data helps the Google Maps and Google Earth teams refine their databases, in turn, and arrive at an approximate idea of canopy coverage.

Without this kind of data, it's difficult to give an estimate about tree density in the city. There's a good deal of seasonal sensitivity in the mix too. The aerial imagery ranges from photos taken in the summer, autumn, winter (whatever little Los Angeles gets), and spring. In a demonstration by the company, Google shows how the Tree Canopy Lab operates with multilevel data and information, including semantics, height maps, multispectral data, and RGB imagery.


Keep your cool — This kind of information is helpful in understanding "heat risk data, population density data, land use data and neighborhood boundary data," Google explains. Tree coverage is measured by neighborhood, heat index, how many people live there, and other metrics.

On top of that, this kind of information is used to create 3D digital models that help the researchers understand the statistical likelihood of vegetation. It's a lot of data, math, graphic design, and of course, a love for the environment. If it can help keep fires at bay, encourage urban greening projects, and potentially keep climate change at bay, it may prove to be one of the better uses of Google's vast computational power.