Map Action, a Mali-based startup that specializes in geolocation, monitoring and data assessment for the environment, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and sustainable development, is leveraging Airbus‘s OneAtlas platform to scale its technology solution.
Founded in February 2018, the West African startup has developed a real-time interactive cartography and mapping tool that involves citizens’ engagement and helps development partners and municipal authorities to manage problems in the WASH areas.
The startup created Map Action, a mobile application that allows citizens to photograph and send environmental problems such as polluted water and waste dump. Development partners and city authorities then rely on the information supplied by the citizens to make more informed decision and provide rapid solutions.
“Citizens and staff members from the technical departments of town halls and government ministries use a mobile application installed on their telephones to geolocate problematic areas in Bamako,” Boubacar Keïta, CEO of Map Action explained in a World Bank blog. “The goal is to collect, analyse, and submit the data to improve urban and environmental management.”
Beyond reporting and cataloguing environmental issues, Map Action conducts a more extensive analysis of environmental impact such as investigating the source of pollution and determining the severity of impact. Its findings, visually represented in colour codes visible on the map, are accessible by development partners and government authorities.
The startup said it has built complete cartography of the city of Bamako, showing insightful data points such as a “perforated or broken pipe, poor rainwater or wastewater evacuation system. The cartography also reveals a water point without access to water, a public health problem such as stagnant wastewater in the open and sources of disease, wild and anarchic waste reception centres.”
Using Google Earth imagery and drone monitoring to augment information supplied by citizens, Map Action is building a thriving business identifying environmental problems in Bamako and offering actionable insights to development partners and government authorities. Its clientele includes development institutions such as the World Bank and local authorities/municipalities.
Having validated its business in Bamako, Map Action is looking to expand into other cities in Mali and possibly scale to other countries in Africa. However, to scale comes the need for efficiency, adaptability and speed.
To achieve scale, Map Action is developing deep-tech and AI algorithms to identify land use/land cover features impacting local environments. The startup will now leverage Airbus’ premium satellite data available in the OneAtlas Living Library platform as a participant in the OneAtlas Pitch Your Project competition.
The OneAtlas Pitch Your Project competition offers selected startups a sandbox to develop their product using satellite data, APIs and SDKs on the OneAtlas Platform. Selected startups receive Standard Subscription to the Living Library platform which provides instant access to the most recent Pléiades (50cm) and SPOT (1.5) optical imagery for two months to develop their product.
“The [OneAtlas] sandbox has many advantages. Besides the fact that we use it to train our algorithms, we also have access to recent satellite images depending on the area which also helps us in our daily work of identifying and analyzing environmental problems.” Map Action CEO Boubacar Keïta told Space in Africa in an email response.
“The partnership with Airbus regarding OneAtlas is excellent, we have benefited from an information session on the technology and have constant access to [Airbus] technicians in case of problems. On top of that, Airbus’ communication gives us a lot of visibility,” he added, noting that access to the sandbox runs until mid-2020.
Map Action is currently improving its algorithms daily while running occasional beta tests with clients. Keita confirms that the new deep-tech technology is yet to be deployed on a commercial scale beyond beta tests. The goal is to expand to other West African countries after the new technology is scaled in Mali. Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso are currently on the company’s expansion radar.
It is important to point out that Map Action is among the 10 aerospace startups that participated in the 2nd cohort of the Africa4Future Bizlab acceleration, a joint accelerator program between Airbus’ global aerospace accelerator, BizLab and Make-IT in Africa, a programme by GIZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation.
Commenting on his experience during the Africa4Future acceleration program, Keita notes:
“#A4F has helped us a lot to structure our business model and get to know where exactly is our market. The program makes us understand that our real value is the data analytics we provide to our clients, before #A4F we were focusing on environment problems detection. On top of that, we have created business opportunities with the other startups in the program, the best example is our collaboration with Côte d’Ivoire Drone in the mining sector in Mali.”
Map Action is among the 10 alumni of Africa4Future who pioneered the African Aerospace and Remote Data Alliance (AARDA ), a pan-African professional association of drone, satellite imaging, IoT, and geospatial-big data companies aimed at facilitating collaboration, lobbying for regulation and optimizing market opportunities.
Keita believes Map Action’s solution is “not just about finding environmental problems. It’s also about change detection and that can be useful for other sectors such as construction, urban planning and space management.”
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.