Climate adaptation tool wins SFI’s AI for Societal Good award

29 Jul 2021

Prof Charles Spillane and Dr Aaron Golden. Image: Aengus McMahon

The winning team created Tapas, an AI-based remote sensing platform that can measure adaptation to the climate crisis using satellite imagery.

A team led by two NUI Galway researchers has won €1m from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) for a tool that can measure adaptation to the changing climate.

The prize came from SFI’s Future Innovator Artificial Intelligence for Societal Good challenge.

The winners were announced today (29 July) by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, and Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora Colm Brophy, TD.

Dr Aaron Golden and Prof Charlie Spillane led the winning team. Their Tapas project, which was created with food security and the climate crisis in mind, involves an AI-enabled satellite remote sensing platform that can measure adaptation using satellite imagery.

“The Tapas project team and I are absolutely delighted to receive this prize in recognition of the importance of the groundbreaking technology we are developing,” said Golden.

“We believe [it] has the potential to empower society across the globe to proactively reduce the impact of climate change, most especially those communities in the developing world whose economies are almost entirely dependent on agriculture.”

The project aims to provide objective data on the effectiveness of agricultural interventions. It focused initially on test sites in Senegal that are subject to adaptation-strengthening agrifood interventions.

“Imagine that it hasn’t rained for a year or that your crops have been scorched by the sun,” Brophy said.

“That’s the reality for communities across the developing world who rely on rain-fed agriculture. Climate change threatens the ability of millions of families to provide food and earn income. I welcome the ingenuity of Dr Golden and his team at NUI Galway in developing this technology which will help communities adapt to our changing climate.”

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI and chief scientific adviser to the Government, congratulated the winners and the runners-up, Prof Patricia Maguire and the AI PREMie team.

That team’s project focused on using AI to identify pregnant women at risk of preeclampsia.

The SFI Future Innovator Prize was launched in 2018 as part of a Government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland with a view to tackling significant social issues.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.