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Concept: Google Street View


The United States spends more than $250 million each year on the American Community Survey (ACS), a labor-intensive door-to-door study that measures statistics relating to race, gender, education, occupation, unemployment, and other demographic factors. Although a comprehensive source of data, the lag between demographic changes and their appearance in the ACS can exceed several years. As digital imagery becomes ubiquitous and machine vision techniques improve, automated data analysis may become an increasingly practical supplement to the ACS. Here, we present a method that estimates socioeconomic characteristics of regions spanning 200 US cities by using 50 million images of street scenes gathered with Google Street View cars. Using deep learning-based computer vision techniques, we determined the make, model, and year of all motor vehicles encountered in particular neighborhoods. Data from this census of motor vehicles, which enumerated 22 million automobiles in total (8% of all automobiles in the United States), were used to accurately estimate income, race, education, and voting patterns at the zip code and precinct level. (The average US precinct contains [Formula: see text]1,000 people.) The resulting associations are surprisingly simple and powerful. For instance, if the number of sedans encountered during a drive through a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, the city is likely to vote for a Democrat during the next presidential election (88% chance); otherwise, it is likely to vote Republican (82%). Our results suggest that automated systems for monitoring demographics may effectively complement labor-intensive approaches, with the potential to measure demographics with fine spatial resolution, in close to real time.

Concepts: United States, President of the United States, Demographics, Automobile, IPhone, Truck, Google Earth, Google Street View


Mapping species spatial distribution using spatial inference and prediction requires a lot of data. Occurrence data are generally not easily available from the literature and are very time-consuming to collect in the field. For that reason, we designed a survey to explore to which extent large-scale databases such as Google maps and Google street view could be used to derive valid occurrence data. We worked with the Pine Processionary Moth (PPM) Thaumetopoea pityocampa because the larvae of that moth build silk nests that are easily visible. The presence of the species at one location can therefore be inferred from visual records derived from the panoramic views available from Google street view. We designed a standardized procedure allowing evaluating the presence of the PPM on a sampling grid covering the landscape under study. The outputs were compared to field data. We investigated two landscapes using grids of different extent and mesh size. Data derived from Google street view were highly similar to field data in the large-scale analysis based on a square grid with a mesh of 16 km (96% of matching records). Using a 2 km mesh size led to a strong divergence between field and Google-derived data (46% of matching records). We conclude that Google database might provide useful occurrence data for mapping the distribution of species which presence can be visually evaluated such as the PPM. However, the accuracy of the output strongly depends on the spatial scales considered and on the sampling grid used. Other factors such as the coverage of Google street view network with regards to sampling grid size and the spatial distribution of host trees with regards to road network may also be determinant.

Concepts: Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Cedar, Pine Processionary, Thaumetopoeidae, Google Street View, Google services


Air pollution affects billions of people worldwide, yet ambient pollution measurements are limited for much of the world. Urban air pollution concentrations vary sharply over short distances (≪1 km) owing to unevenly distributed emission sources, dilution, and physicochemical transformations. Accordingly, even where present, conventional fixed-site pollution monitoring methods lack the spatial resolution needed to characterize heterogeneous human exposures and localized pollution hotspots. Here, we demonstrate a measurement approach to reveal urban air pollution patterns at 4-5 orders of magnitude greater spatial precision than possible with current central-site ambient monitoring. We equipped Google Street View vehicles with a fast-response pollution measurement platform and repeatedly sampled every street in a 30-km(2) area of Oakland, CA, developing the largest urban air quality data set of its type. Resulting maps of annual daytime NO, NO2, and black carbon at 30 m-scale reveal stable, persistent pollution patterns with surprisingly sharp small-scale variability attributable to local sources, up to 5-8× within individual city blocks. Since local variation in air quality profoundly impacts public health and environmental equity, our results have important implications for how air pollution is measured and managed. If validated elsewhere, this readily scalable measurement approach could address major air quality data gaps worldwide.

Concepts: Measurement, Air pollution, Global warming, Air Quality Index, Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Google Street View


The assessment of a species' habitat is a crucial issue in ecology and conservation. While the collection of habitat data has been boosted by the availability of remote sensing technologies, certain habitat types have yet to be collected through costly, on-ground surveys, limiting study over large areas. Cliffs are ecosystems that provide habitat for a rich biodiversity, especially raptors. Because of their principally vertical structure, however, cliffs are not easy to study by remote sensing technologies, posing a challenge for many researches and managers working with cliff-related biodiversity. We explore the feasibility of Google Street View, a freely available on-line tool, to remotely identify and assess the nesting habitat of two cliff-nesting vultures (the griffon vulture and the globally endangered Egyptian vulture) in northwestern Spain. Two main usefulness of Google Street View to ecologists and conservation biologists were evaluated: i) remotely identifying a species' potential habitat and ii) extracting fine-scale habitat information. Google Street View imagery covered 49% (1,907 km) of the roads of our study area (7,000 km(2)). The potential visibility covered by on-ground surveys was significantly greater (mean: 97.4%) than that of Google Street View (48.1%). However, incorporating Google Street View to the vulture’s habitat survey would save, on average, 36% in time and 49.5% in funds with respect to the on-ground survey only. The ability of Google Street View to identify cliffs (overall accuracy = 100%) outperformed the classification maps derived from digital elevation models (DEMs) (62-95%). Nonetheless, high-performance DEM maps may be useful to compensate Google Street View coverage limitations. Through Google Street View we could examine 66% of the vultures' nesting-cliffs existing in the study area (n = 148): 64% from griffon vultures and 65% from Egyptian vultures. It also allowed us the extraction of fine-scale features of cliffs. This World Wide Web-based methodology may be a useful, complementary tool to remotely map and assess the potential habitat of cliff-dependent biodiversity over large geographic areas, saving survey-related costs.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Ecology, Remote sensing, Vulture, Google Maps, Digital elevation model, Google Earth, Google Street View


Information about the location and magnitudes of natural gas (NG) leaks from urban distribution pipelines is important for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and optimizing investment in pipeline management. To enable rapid collection of such data, we developed a relatively simple method using high-precision methane analyzers in Google Street View cars. Our data indicate that this automated leak survey system can document patterns in leak location and magnitude within and among cities, even without wind data. We found that urban areas with prevalent corrosion-prone distribution lines (Boston, MA, Staten Island, NY, and Syracuse, NY), leaked approximately 25-fold more methane than cities with more modern pipeline materials (Burlington, VT, and Indianapolis, IN). Although this mobile monitoring method produces conservative estimates of leak rates and leak counts, it can still help prioritize both leak repairs and replacement of leak-prone sections of distribution lines, thus minimizing methane emissions over short and long terms.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Natural gas, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Pipeline transport, Google Street View, Hydrostatic test


Although there is global growth in outdoor smokefree areas, little is known about the associated smokefree signage. We aimed to study smokefree signage at playgrounds and to compare field observations with images from Google Street View (GSV).

Concepts: Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Google Street View


Walking for physical activity is associated with substantial health benefits for adults. Increasingly research has focused on associations between walking behaviours and neighbourhood environments including street characteristics such as pavement availability and aesthetics. Nevertheless, objective assessment of street-level data is challenging. This research investigates the reliability of a new street characteristic audit tool designed for use with Google Street View, and assesses levels of agreement between computer-based and on-site auditing.

Concepts: Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Google Street View


Adverse neighborhood conditions play an important role beyond individual characteristics. There is increasing interest in identifying specific characteristics of the social and built environments adversely affecting health outcomes. Most research has assessed aspects of such exposures via self-reported instruments or census data. Potential threats in the local environment may be subject to short-term changes that can only be measured with more nimble technology. The advent of new technologies may offer new opportunities to obtain geospatial data about neighborhoods that may circumvent the limitations of traditional data sources. This overview describes the utility, validity and reliability of selected emerging technologies to measure neighborhood conditions for public health applications. It also describes next steps for future research and opportunities for interventions. The paper presents an overview of the literature on measurement of the built and social environment in public health (Google Street View, webcams, crowdsourcing, remote sensing, social media, unmanned aerial vehicles, and lifespace) and location-based interventions. Emerging technologies such as Google Street View, social media, drones, webcams, and crowdsourcing may serve as effective and inexpensive tools to measure the ever-changing environment. Georeferenced social media responses may help identify where to target intervention activities, but also to passively evaluate their effectiveness. Future studies should measure exposure across key time points during the life-course as part of the exposome paradigm and integrate various types of data sources to measure environmental contexts. By harnessing these technologies, public health research can not only monitor populations and the environment, but intervene using novel strategies to improve the public health.

Concepts: Environment, Futurology, Natural environment, Intervention, IPhone, Google Earth, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Google Street View


To demonstrate an information technology-based approach to assess characteristics of streets and intersections associated with injuries that is less costly and time-consuming than location-based studies of pedestrian injury.

Concepts: Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Google Street View


Drinking fountains are a public amenity that may help counter the obesogenic environment (sugary beverages) and reduce the risk of heat stroke during heat waves. As a case study, we aimed to survey all public fountains in a city: Wellington, New Zealand, and to determine the utility of Google Street View in studying drinking fountains.

Concepts: Water, Google Maps, IPhone, Google Earth, Fountain, Google Street View