Faszination Forschung

Green light to Xiaoxiang Zhu’s AI Future Lab for Earth observation

German government awards 5 million Euros to support artificial intelligence research

The proposal for an “AI for Earth Observation” (AI4EO) Future Lab, led by Prof. Xiaoxiang Zhu, has been successful in the competition “International Future Labs for Artificial Intelligence” of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). AI4EO is launching in May 2020 and will be funded with up to 5 million Euros. Led by TUM in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), among others, satellite data and Big Data analyses will be used to create models of global urbanization, food supplies and the management of natural disasters. 

The purpose of the international Future Labs: bringing together top international scientists to tackle some of the biggest questions currently facing AI researchers. In March 2019, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the BMBF, launched its grant competition, which has now chosen three winning projects across Germany. Among them, the “Artificial Intelligence for Earth Observation: Reasoning, Uncertainties, Ethics and Beyond (AI4EO)” Lab. The Technical University of Munich (TUM) will helm the project, with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Helmholtz AI local unit for aeronautics, space and transportation, as a close research partner.

The Future Lab AI4EO

The Future Lab AI4EO is bringing together 27 researchers from 20 international organizations across nine countries to drive the development of AI earth observation technologies. “The goal of the Future Lab AI4EO is to consolidate Germany’s pole position in this field,” says Prof. Xiaoxiang Zhu, member of Helmholtz AI steering board, who is serving as the Lab’s director. To realize this goal, members of the research team will be taking a holistic and interdisciplinary approach – not only to develop new methods for earth observation, but to answer fundamental questions about the reliability and accuracy of AI technologies.

Enormous amounts of data require AI processes, and an ethical framework

What are the development trends in global urbanization, and how many humans worldwide are currently living in slums? Where are major environmental changes occurring? To answer these kinds of questions, researchers often utilize satellite data. With the amount of data being gathered by satellites having grown significantly in the meantime, researchers are now harnessing AI as the best way to process the data to derive the specific nuggets of information they need. The 

Technological advancements being made in the field of AI are also raising ethical questions, which will be another focal point of research for the Future Lab team. When information is available to the public, it could, for example, serve to prevent forest fires, improve the sustainability of cities or allow for the better management of slum areas. However, it will be important to balance the benefits of public data against potential abuse or misuse. As technology allows for ever-higher image resolution, ensuring the protection of individual data and privacy is also of paramount importance.




© Prof. Zhu's photo: Juli Eberle / TUM / ediundsepp Gestaltungsgesellschaft mbH