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The Journey to Mapping Over 100 Countries Using Artificial Intelligence

As we celebrate our 8th anniversary, we reflect on the journey of how we got to where we are today, and where we’re headed next. To-date, all of our growth and accomplishments have been driven by our mission.


As we celebrate our 8th anniversary, we reflect on the journey of how we got to where we are today, and where we’re headed next. To-date, all of our growth and accomplishments have been driven by our mission: digitizing the world using AI.

Ecopia land cover data in Indonesia
Ecopia land cover data in Indonesia

Ecopia AI (“Ecopia”) was spun out of Ph.D. research at the University of Waterloo. Back then, Ecopia’s founders recognized that satellites, airplanes, motor vehicles, and mobile devices capture billions of high-resolution images of the Earth every day. This influx of data presented an opportunity to map the Earth in much more detail and at a much higher frequency than ever before — essentially generating a digital twin.

Given a digital twin of the Earth, individuals and organizations could leverage powerful cloud computing systems to study the changes of our planet in a virtual environment. Further, large-scale challenges like climate change could be better addressed through these studies. However, traditional methods used to convert images into digital maps (to form a digital twin) were extremely time-consuming and expensive.‍

Motivated to solve these challenges, Ecopia was founded in 2013 with the mission of digitizing the world using AI. By leveraging the latest advancements in deep learning, it has become feasible to convert billions of images of the Earth into high-definition (HD) maps. Since the initial development of our prototype system between 2013 and 2015, our capabilities have evolved remarkably. We’ve grown from mapping one small city to mapping entire continents, from single-layer maps to multi-layer maps, and from 2D basic maps to 3D advanced maps.‍

This evolution has enabled our AI system to detect, extract (map), and update features from geospatial imagery with an increasing level of detail, offering a highly-scalable mapping solution that maintains the accuracy of manual digitization.

We recognize that the mission of digitizing every detail of the Earth cannot be accomplished by one company alone. That’s why Ecopia is cultivating a global ecosystem of image providers who, together, have the capability of capturing highly detailed and up-to-date imagery anywhere in the world. This global partnership network affords Ecopia with access to an unprecedented amount of detail of the Earth, empowering us with the inputs needed to provide the most comprehensive mapping products to our customers.

Learn more about a few notable continental-scale projects, and product developments that refined our AI’s mapping capabilities over the past 5 years.

Complete map of buildings in Australia
Building footprints extraction of Australia, our first continental scale project
  • 2016: Ecopia secured our first continental-scale customer. On behalf of Geoscape Australia (Australia’s foremost authority on property data), Ecopia extracted 16.5 million building footprints from satellite imagery across 7.692 million square kilometres — in only 6 months. This building footprint map went on to power applications across the country including but not limited to: transportation, risk mitigation, emergency response, and infrastructure rollouts.

  • 2018: In partnership with Maxar Technologies, Ecopia mapped every building footprint across the United States. Improving in speed and efficiency with every project, our AI-based systems mapped 10x the number of building footprints than Australia (169 million vs 16.5 million) over 8 million square kilometres in the same 6 month time period.

    During this same time, we also began extracting 12 land cover classes from aerial imagery of the US on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to enable faster and more efficient coastal change analysis for municipalities across the country. We went on to map over 100,000 square kilometres of diverse land cover across the country, rapidly scaling our AI’s ability to capture complex, detailed land cover features.

  • 2019: Expanding on our land cover capabilities, we introduced Advanced Transportation HD map layers into our product suite. These layers include features such as bike lanes, medians, lane markings, crosswalks, sidewalk width, and curbs. Our advanced transportation layers power various transportation and pedestrian safety planning initiatives as well as next-generation applications including smart city infrastructure and autonomous vehicle use cases.
  • 2020: With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SDTC (Sustainable Development Technology Canada), and Maxar Technologies, Ecopia mapped all buildings and roads across sub-Saharan Africa — a massive dual-layer mapping initiative. In only 8 months, Ecopia mapped 417 million buildings and 17 million linear kilometres of roads across 24 million square kilometres. This map will be used by NGOs and humanitarian organizations to optimize healthcare delivery, deploy sustainable infrastructure, and monitor conservation efforts.

    In 2020, we also further developed our AI-based systems to create and update 3D maps at a country-wide scale. The inclusion of 3D mapping capabilities in our core product suite means that we can now offer our customers rapid updating capabilities, at-scale. This technology significantly reduces the cost in relation to traditional solutions, enabling the adoption of 3D maps across many international applications.

    To give an example — by collaborating with Compagnia Generale Ripreseaeree (CGR), Ecopia mapped every single building, tree, and bridge across Italy in 3D and will update this data on an annual basis. This map will be leveraged by various organizations to empower better data-driven decision-making across Italy — examples include telecommunications companies using the map to guide 5G rollouts, and governments leveraging the map to inform flood analysis.
3D building extraction of Italy, Ecopia's first country-wide 3D mapping project in partnership with CGR
3D building extraction of Italy, Ecopia's first country-wide 3D mapping project in partnership with CGR

Through all of these milestones, we have mapped over 40 million square kilometers across 100 countries by working with 27 image partners across the world — and our journey has only just begun.

‍We’re excited about our rapidly growing ecosystem where governments, insurers, civil engineers, and other organizations thrive by leveraging the most up-to-date maps, and global image partners work collaboratively to contribute to the ecosystem.

All of these achievements were made possible thanks to our incredible team. Every step of the way, they have carried an entrepreneurial spirit and have shown a lasting commitment towards our mission: digitizing the world using AI.

This same commitment has been applied to empower better decision-making across industries. As a result, we’ve accumulated a number of company, culture, and industry awards, including The Globe & Mail’s Top Growing Companies, Deloitte’s Fast 50 & Fast 500, CIX’s Top 10 Growth, and the Canadian Business Growth 500. We’re excited to continue on this trajectory while still being completely bootstrapped. We attribute our organic growth to the support of our global image partner network, and to our customers who recognize the value that Ecopia can unlock for their organizations.

What’s Next?

Ecopia has ambitious plans for enhanced product expansion — which will be enabled by leveraging our core AI-based mapping capabilities that have been refined over the past few years. As we look forward, we will continue to expand our image partnerships across the globe and embed even more detail into our HD maps by extracting features from a multitude of new image sources. We also plan to enable augmented reality (AR) technologies — which will present new, innovative ways for users to interact with our maps. Our customers can look forward to these next-generation products — which will be delivered with the same scale and accuracy that they have come to expect from us.

So, here’s to another year — stay tuned for more exciting announcements around product development and partnerships! Thank you to everyone who made mapping our first 100 countries possible!

Learn more about Ecopia's work around the world

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