Residential scene classification for gridded population sampling in developing countries using deep convolutional neural networks on satellite imagery


Conducting surveys in low- and middle-income countries is often challenging because many areas lack a complete sampling frame, have outdated census information, or have limited data available for designing and selecting a representative sample. Geosampling is a probability-based, gridded population sampling method that addresses some of these issues by using geographic information system (GIS) tools to create logistically manageable area units for sampling. GIS grid cells are overlaid to partition a country’s existing administrative boundaries into area units that vary in size from 50 m × 50 m to 150 m × 150 m. To avoid sending interviewers to unoccupied areas, researchers manually classify grid cells as “residential” or “nonresidential” through visual inspection of aerial images. “Nonresidential” units are then excluded from sampling and data collection. This process of manually classifying sampling units has drawbacks since it is labor intensive, prone to human error, and creates the need for simplifying assumptions during calculation of design-based sampling weights. In this paper, we discuss the development of a deep learning classification model to predict whether aerial images are residential or nonresidential, thus reducing manual labor and eliminating the need for simplifying assumptions.On our test sets, the model performs comparable to a human-level baseline in both Nigeria (94.5% accuracy) and Guatemala (96.4% accuracy), and outperforms baseline machine learning models trained on crowdsourced or remote-sensed geospatial features. Additionally, our findings suggest that this approach can work well in new areas with relatively modest amounts of training data. Gridded population sampling methods like geosampling are becoming increasingly popular in countries with outdated or inaccurate census data because of their timeliness, flexibility, and cost. Using deep learning models directly on satellite images, we provide a novel method for sample frame construction that identifies residential gridded aerial units. In cases where manual classification of satellite images is used to (1) correct for errors in gridded population data sets or (2) classify grids where population estimates are unavailable, this methodology can help reduce annotation burden with comparable quality to human analysts.

International Journal of Health Geographics