Geographical information systems specialist from Uganda Ketty Adoch and her counterpart Torsten Bondo, a business development manager and senior remote sensing engineer are among 11 people who have been selected to receive grants from Microsoft and National Geographic for projects on Artificial Intelligence.
Those selected to receive the Microsoft and National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grants will apply artificial intelligence (AI) to help understand and protect the planet. Each AI for Earth Innovation Grant recipient will be awarded between $45,000 and $200,000 to support their innovative projects.
Ketty's AI for Earth Innovation Grant project will detect, quantify and monitor land cover change in the area surrounding Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda's largest and oldest national park.
For Bondo, his AI for Earth Innovation Grant aims to use machine learning and satellites to support irrigation development and improve crop water efficiency in Uganda together with the Ugandan geo-information company Geo Gecko. The goal is to contribute to food security, poverty alleviation and economic growth.
"The National Geographic Society is committed to achieving a planet in balance, and in joining forces with Microsoft on the AI for Earth Innovation Grant program, we are providing incredible potential to drive fundamental change through our unique combination of expertise in conservation, computer science, capacity building and public engagement," said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist of the Society.
"We look forward to seeing these talented individuals create solutions to some of the most challenging environmental issues of the 21st century using the most advanced technologies available today."
Eleven projects were selected from an impressive pool of more than 200 applicants. The high caliber of the applications prompted Microsoft and National Geographic to increase the funding for the 11 chosen projects from the initially planned $1 million to more than $1.28 million.
This furthers the organizations' commitment to investing in novel projects that use AI to help monitor, model and ultimately manage Earth's natural systems for a more sustainable future.
"Human ingenuity, especially when paired with the speed, power and scale that AI brings, is our best bet for crafting a better future for our planet and everyone on it," said Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft Corp.
"The caliber of the applications we received was outstanding and demonstrates the demand we've seen for these resources since we first launched AI for Earth. We're looking forward to continuing our work with the National Geographic Society to support these new grantees in their work to explore, discover and improve the planet."
The grant recipients and their project members will have the funds, computing power and technical support to advance exploration and discover new environmental solutions in the following core areas: sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and water.
The diverse group hails from around the globe, originating from six countries and working in eight regions across five continents.
The AI for Earth Innovation Grant program will provide award recipients with financial support, access to Microsoft Azure and AI tools, inclusion in the National Geographic Explorer community, and affiliation with National Geographic Labs, an initiative launched by National Geographic to accelerate transformative change and exponential solutions to the world's biggest challenges by harnessing data, technology and innovation.
The grants will support the creation and deployment of open source trained models and algorithms so they are available to other environmental researchers and innovators, and thereby have the potential to provide exponential global impact.
The AI for Earth Innovation Grant program builds upon Microsoft's AI for Earth program, which counts as grantees nearly 200 individuals and organizations on all seven continents, and the National Geographic Society's 130-year history of grant-making, supporting more than 13,000 grant projects along the way.