Facebook’s New AI Maps Tool Can Find Even the Most Remote Unpaved Roads

In Unpaved Roads by Frank Elswick

Recently released mapping tools from Facebook will help travelers, first responders, and community leaders make sense of ultra-remote unpaved roads. 

With platforms like Google Maps changing the way we navigate, it’s crucial that every road is accounted for. Major highways and paved streets often make the cut, but leaving unpaved roads off the map can do a disservice to local economies, confuse travelers, and even delay first responders should emergency situations arise.

Thankfully, Facebook recently released a suite of tools called Map with AI aimed at improving the way we map roads. Working with OpenStreetMap, a community organization that makes it easier to create crowd-sourced maps, Facebook developed its signature tool RapiD to predict the features of high-resolution satellite imagery. The tool leverages artificial intelligence to interpret that imagery and support mapmakers.

This technology will contribute to a more thorough understanding of the unpaved roads that may otherwise be left off of navigation applications and platforms. While this is a plus for community stakeholders at all levels, it also means that decision-makers will need to invest in soil stabilization and dust control products that can help unpaved roads endure greater use.

How Facebook’s AI Maps Tool Works

Facebook’s Map with AI initiative combines satellite infrastructure, artificial intelligence, and intuitive editing features as it aims to make road maps more accurate and more readily available. To do so, the platform overlays satellite imagery on existing road networks. Facebook’s AI technology then predicts features that may not currently be logged on digital maps, such as unpaved roads.

Using RapiD, human editors focus on a selected task area. Features that have been predicted are highlighted and mapmakers then confirm whether or not those features are what the AI has predicted them to be. OpenStreetMap editors can then click to add those features, which instantly become part of the digital landscape.

Facebook developed the AI capabilities behind these tools in conjunction with Maxar, an American space tech company. Maxar provided commercially available public images and Facebook’s team created a deep neural network (DNN) with 34 layers that learned to single out roads with an accuracy of two square feet per pixel.

What This Means for Unpaved Roads

Map with AI is already changing the way communities use transportation networks. In August 2018, Facebook used the underlying technology of these tools to assist emergency response efforts in Kerala, India, after heavy floods. Facebook’s team worked with OpenStreetMap to add more than 21,500 previously unmapped roads, helping emergency crews reach hard-hit areas as soon as possible.

For unpaved roads that are often left off of digital maps, this technology could be transformative. More accurate maps could help travelers better navigate rural communities and support local economies, first responders understand how to reach disaster-stricken areas strategically, and community leaders plan for infrastructural improvements.

Investing in Rural Infrastructure

Ultimately, these tools can help community stakeholders and visitors take advantage of everything unpaved roads have to offer. However, while Facebook’s Map with AI initiative and RapiD platform will literally put unpaved roads on the map, it’s important for key decision-makers to invest in the road stabilization products and application strategies they’ll need to ensure that these byways can handle the added traffic that greater attention will bring.

With the help of soil stabilization products from Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc., rural communities and villages can guarantee the stability and integrity of their unpaved surfaces. Our patented soil stabilization technologies strengthen unpaved roads from their foundation to their surface and are backed by more than 40 years of industry-leading expertise. 

If you’re in the market for a turnkey stabilization solution for your unpaved roads or a managed service that allows us to handle maintenance every step of the way, reach out to the team at Midwest. Our experts are uniquely qualified to help communities and organizations in rural areas get the most out of their unpaved roads.

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction and natural paving markets.