Satellite imagery and phone records used to create detailed maps of poverty

By Jonathan Hassell

Researchers have found a breakthrough way to create actual detailed maps, based on real data, of regions of the world stricken by poverty.

This news comes from, which reported that a team of researchers has combined anonymized data from mobile phones with detailed satellite imagery to create high-resolution maps that can measure poverty in the country of Bangladesh. The research was led by the Flowminder Foundation and WorldPop, a unit of the University of Southampton.

“Census and household surveys are normally used as data sources to estimate rates of poverty,” Dr. Jessica Steele, a leader of the research team, said in the report. “However, they aren’t regularly updated — for example, censuses only take place every 10 years — and in low-income countries, surveys can be patchy.”

She added that “the advantage of using mobile phone data is that it provides us with information which is continually updated, can be interrogated in a variety of ways and can track changes on an ongoing basis.”

Mobile phones transmit a lot of usage data when they pair with transmission towers, including locations, durations, destinations and whether the device is a basic phone or a more expensive smartphone. In the same vein, satellite imagery provides a detailed way to examine the living conditions in a given area, including rainfall, access to water, available arable land and so on. The two methods combine to form a method to track poverty in both tight urban areas and distant rural regions.

The project aims to provide information to the United Nations and world governments to track poverty. The team worked with Grameenphone and Telenor Research on the findings, which were both funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Image source: iStock

Written By

Jonathan Hassell

President, 82 Ventures

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a technical writing and consulting firm based in Charlotte, NC. He centers his focus around network administrator, security, the cloud, and mobile technologies.

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