Letters

Nairobi can tap free satellite data to soar

nairobi-skyline

An aerial view of Nairobi CBD. FILE PHOTO | NMG

osoro

Summary

  • Nairobi, in one way or the other, is using the free satellite data, but it is short of creating a working physical address system.
  • Thanks to GPS, the locational data for every physical building or facility in the city exists.
  • The only missing gap is linking the locations through a standard coding system.
  • The data comes in the form of co-ordinates that is not user friendly.

The use of navigation technology in making intelligent decisions has existed since the first civilisation.

Humans have migrated from the use of stars for inter-continental and transatlantic movement to adoption of bespoke navigation technologies.

One such technology is the United States’ Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Global Positioning System (GPS).

The GPS now provides a relatively accurate and high-quality locational data that can be adopted in improving service delivery and management of populated cities such as Nairobi.

Vihiga County has been successful in using satellite locational data to map resources and population distribution.

Nairobi, in one way or the other, is using the free satellite data, but it is short of creating a working physical address system.

Thanks to GPS, the locational data for every physical building or facility in the city exists. The only missing gap is linking the locations through a standard coding system. The data comes in the form of co-ordinates that is not user friendly.

Smartphone users prefer human-friendly formats to access direction. No one will search the direction to Nyayo House by coordinates, but rather by the name. What happens when there are two or more Nyayo Houses in Nairobi?

The answer to this question lies in assigning unique codes to physical addresses using free locational data. This can only be done by the government or through a partnership with the private sector.

Rwanda’s Kigali has done this, and now they have a working physical address system. In such a city, deliveries from e-commerce service providers such as Jumia, Glovo and Uber can easily reach the doorstep.

The unique address system can be extended to other services, including tax collection, garbage collection, health, security and business registration.

Now that the city is revamping its public transport system, satellite navigation data can be deployed to manage it.

With a working commuter rail and bus rapid transport system, GPS data would be vital in scheduling, managing and controlling train and bus services.

It can provide passengers with the location of all bus stops and terminals.

Just as is the case in air transport, which uses the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology, the same can be achieved in terrestrial transport as already done in some major cities around the world.

By continually transmitting their locational data, awaiting passengers can track the outgoing and incoming trains and buses to plan their journeys.

City dwellers already have GPS receivers in the form of smartphones, it is now up to Nairobi Metropolitan Services and Kenya Railways to implement an efficient system that will help reduce traffic congestion.

Covid-19 has underscored the importance of navigational data in highly populated cities such as Nairobi.

The containment of the pandemic has been different in cities that capitalise on free locational data.

GIS DATABASE

For instance, in Athens, Greece, authorities and civilians have been using a mobile phone application known as docandu to identify nearby hospitals, pharmacies and doctors.

In Lombardy local council, Italy, authorities use a smartphone application allertLOM to provide updates about regions affected by the Covid-19 and warn residents.

All these two applications use the free location data from the European Union GNSS, Galileo.

The success of these applications is due to existence of an updated geographical information system database of all pharmacies, hospitals and doctor locations.

Bonface Osoro, postgraduate student at University of Strathclyde, UK with interest in Low Earth Orbit communication, radar and navigation satellites