UW News

October 5, 2020

Video: Using ‘Street View’ to track pandemic in Seattle over time

UW News

As the city of Seattle shut down in March 2020 to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, a group of University of Washington researchers decided to track how the city would react.

Driving a pre-determined route around the city with a 360-degree camera, the team collected thousands of images, not unlike Google Street View. By doing this regularly over 15 months, they hope to literally map Seattle’s recovery. The route goes through economically diverse neighborhoods, passing businesses, schools, churches and hospitals. The project began in May and is expected to go through fall of 2021.

A computer program was developed to identify and sort objects like pedestrians, cars and buildings. Employing artificial intelligence to count objects from the massive collection of photos allows the images to be made into quantifiable data.

With these numbers, the study hopes to answer questions such as: How many people are out and about at different points in time? Are restaurants open, and where? What kinds of vehicles are on the road?

Different neighborhoods may recover at different rates. Researchers hope they’ll get insight into what factors make communities resilient and how to better prepare for potential future pandemics and other disasters.

More on the Seattle Street View Campaign here.