On 05 April 2018, the UNICEF Innovation Fund announces 6 new investments in open source technology solutions – Dymaxion Labs is among one of six new portfolio companies to receive investment. Dymaxion Labs will join a cohort of companies working on solutions using data science and artificial intelligence.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in technology start-ups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. The Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions that can impact the lives of the most vulnerable children. These solutions are clustered around $100billion industries in frontier technology spaces. Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org for more information – including real-time data – on each investment.
Dymaxion labs: Utilising satellite imagery algorithms and machine learning techniques to address the growth of informal settlements in Latin America.
How would you describe your solution?
In Latin America, more and more families live in informal settlements that often lack access to critical public services such as sanitation, resulting in health and environmental hazards, especially for children. If governments have updated information about these communities (location, growth) — they can focus on improving the communities’ access to health, education, security, and opportunities. However, there’s a big challenge in the region: Data collection through censuses is conducted, on average, every 10 years (that’s not very representative of what is really happening on the ground).
To generate timely information and address the growth of informal settlements in Latin America, Dymaxion Labs is building AP-Latam. AP-Latam utilizes satellite imagery algorithms and machine learning techniques — providing real-time info about the communities’ location, and changes in movements (with respect to previous years). In instances of strong climate events and humanitarian crises occurring in risky zones, AP-Latam can also be used for rapid response — monitoring population spread and analyzing the changes, post-event.
In closer detail…
Slums and informal settlements grow quickly in our region and there is a need for real-time data for policymakers’ decisions. AP-Latam measures their growth in Latin American countries through weekly measuring and compares their covered area against historical data. To obtain these results we employ artificial intelligence algorithms to satellite imagery.
What is unique about your solution and how is it different from what currently exists?
AP-Latam is unique because we closely understand the changes in informal settlements around Latin America and are passionate to help. This gives us the drive to develop a sustainable, effective, and tailored solution. Other solutions have been developed using machine learning techniques, but they ended up being experiments and prototypes that haven’t evolved on detection methodologies.
We also find that the scope of our project (covering major cities in Latin America) is one of the most ambitious related to machine learning and earth observation. This also sets us apart from others. Unlike other similar solutions, ours will be released on an open source license, allowing it to be used and improved by other developers around the world.
Why does being open-source make your solution better?
Being open source allows us to test and improve our methodology with a global community of problem solvers. Being open source, our methodology is reproducible, which makes it transparent — people who want to obtain our results can freely access it from our source code repository. Our datasets will also be released with a public domain license. This means that these datasets can also be used by non-technical users to add value to existing solutions or aid in the development of other open source tools. Lastly, being open source allows other initiatives to make estimations in other countries and regions using our proven techniques. Can you see the scale – and impact these initiatives could bring to improve the lives of children around the world?
How did you come up with your solution and what inspired you to form your company?
Field surveys about slums and informal settlements are made by NGOs in our region every two or three years with different methodologies. Censuses are also done every 10 years on average in Latin America and due to macroeconomic shocks and bad administration, this data is quickly outdated.
We saw these challenges. And we asked ourselves what if we develop a scalable methodology to collect data – we could help those organizations do their surveys with more frequency, optimizing their resources. In a nutshell – the idea of optimizing how governments, NGOs, and companies gather data (conduct field surveys) inspired us to form Dymaxion Labs.
How did your team come together? What is your team’s MO and drive towards the problem you’re trying to solve?
We knew each other from working together in previous jobs and from being classmates in university.
To develop AP-Latam, we are working on building processing tools for satellite imagery and machine learning algorithms. We will also work on UX and the design of the tool so that it can be used by people with differents skill sets. On the other hand, we will be working with local governments, NGOs and open data movements to help us validate our results and for publication. Finally, we aim to generate partnerships with academia to publish our methodology and results in peer-reviewed journals. This way, we can validate scientifically our techniques.
What do you plan on doing with UNICEF’s Venture Fund investment and how will you use that to leverage raising follow-on investment?
With UNICEF’s Venture Fund investment we plan to improve our current artificial intelligence algorithms. Achieving our goals allows us to gain recognition in the earth observation ecosystem. This project allows us to make partnerships with satellite imagery companies such as Satellogic or Planet that could be useful for us. Also, the UNICEF Venture Fund investment can help us consolidate our team. Mentorship and subject matter experts will help us develop our business skills.
Being part of UNICEF’s Venture Fund portfolio is by itself a cover letter to raising fund with other VCs. Being successful in our project will allow us to meet new investments opportunities.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make $50-90K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity.
If you’ve got a start-up registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries and have a working, open source prototype (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you. Find more information visit: https://unicefinnovationfund.org/