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Big data for good: Eye in the sky

Big data for good: Eye in the sky

January 30, 2017
Ohio State data researchers are making discoveries that have the power to impact your life.
Rongjun Qin is developing data-processing methods that can help save lives.

Building a better process

Laura Kubatko

Rongjun Qin is an assistant professor in Ohio State’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic engineering and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His team starts with imagery generated by satellites, drones and other aircraft, and then develops algorithms that interpret the data. “Satellites can capture six terabytes of data every day,” he said. “We are focused on taking that data, and then figuring out how to process it into something useful.”

 An essential food source

An eye in the sky

Qin and his team work with a wide variety of data — some from satellites, some from drones, but all give the researchers a look at a region in a window of time. Qin said that having this baseline is crucially important, particularly when it comes to assessing change, such as when an area has been affected by the devastation created by an earthquake. With this information in hand, the algorithms created by Qin and his team can provide a before-and-after assessment that gives first responders actionable information.

 Small but destructive

Saving time and saving lives

In a disaster, time is of the essence. Sending humans into a disaster area to assess each building and road can take weeks. To speed up the process, a drone can be sent over the area, with images then being sent for processing. "[Comparing the before and after] provides very accurate data,” he said. “Based on that, you can do a massive estimation, rather than having people inspect every roof.”  

 Translational Data Analytics

Translational Data Analytics

Qin is part of Translational Data Analytics @ Ohio State, a program that serves as a foundational part of Ohio State’s Discovery Themes effort. It’s home to 104 faculty representing 46 disciplines and has recruited 39 new faculty to Ohio State since 2015. Starting in 2018, TDA will be housed in Pomerene Hall, which is currently undergoing renovation. In addition to launching TDA, Ohio State was the first research university to offer an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in data analytics. 

A genetic-based strategy

A collaborative campus

Qin joined Ohio State in 2015 after serving as a researcher at ETH Zurich, a science and technology-focused university in Europe. He said he decided to come to Ohio State in part because it created the ability for him to work with researchers from a variety of different disciplines, a must considering the technology he develops has a number of different practical applications. Qin undoubtedly found willing partners at Ohio State. He recently earned a seed grant with Ohio State political scientist Erin Lin, and their work will focus on using remote sensing to detect the impact of bombing and consequent demining efforts in Cambodia, and their relation to the country's economic growth.

Ohio State

Solving grand challenges

Ohio State President Michael V. Drake has challenged the university to re-envision the role of the land-grant university in the 21st century. Ohio State’s Discovery Themes, which focus the institution’s intellectual might on solving the grand challenges of our time, are one of the ways Drake’s challenge is being met. Data analytics research conducted through the Translational Data Analytics program supports research in the Discovery Themes areas of energy and environment, food production and security, health and wellness, and humanities and the arts.

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