UBA application lab for AI and Big Data

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AI can be used to protect our environment and to advance sustainable development.
Source: akindo / Istockphoto

The German Environment Agency is establishing an application lab for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to make AI usable for environmental and sustainability applications. As a space for innovation and experimentation, the lab will focus on the added value of AI for humankind and the environment and identify research questions on the sustainable use and operation of AI applications.

AI is an important key technology not only for industry but also for policy makers and research, in particular in the area of environmental protection and climate change. Starting in 2022, the German Environment Agency will establish an application laboratory for Artificial Intelligence and big data (AI Lab) to explore existing technologies and methods of AI and big data analysis. The purpose of the lab is to provide effective support for activities in environmental and sustainability research and environmental monitoring in a time of transformation marked by digitalisation as well as socio-ecological and institutional change. The main requirements for the lab result both from the digital policy agenda for the environment of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) and European legislative and standardisation procedures. The AI lab will initially be financed until 2025 with funds from the Federal Government's economic stimulus and future technologies package (2021).

Based on various internal and external data sources, the AI lab's work will focus on the development of practical environmental and sustainability applications. Furthermore, the lab will enable and encourage the identification, exploration, consolidation and provision of data and helps to acquire and to process previously inaccessible, complex and heterogeneous datasets in the area of environmental data and environmentally relevant data for AI applications. The use of satellite remote sensing and remote sensing data will be an essential component of the AI lab. This will effectively support science-based political consulting and the policy support and the application and enforcement of environmental laws at federal/state level.

Current planning entails that the team of some 30 experts – project managers, data scientists, data engineers and high-performance computing specialists – will take up business activities in Leipzig. Modelled on an internal start-up, agile working in the AI lab is intended to offer a high degree of independence, flexibility and creativity for innovation. In the AI lab's start-up phase, the first application scenarios for AI in the environmental sector are to be developed and refined, also in cooperation with other research institutions. The range of topics for possible AI applications includes AI to support future water monitoring, for instance when it comes to evaluating large amounts of data from environmental samples, as well as matching remote sensing data with registry data from wind energy and photovoltaic plants using object recognition. Specific research questions on the sustainability of the use and operation of AI applications (Sustainable AI) will also be addressed.