Senior applies GIS research to solve global problems, lands career with software start-up company
Bo Kim likes to turn geographical maps into problem-solving tools.
His geocomputational skills — acquired in UWL Geographic Information Science (GIS) courses and through undergraduate research — have helped him land a career after graduation as a GIS web engineer at a start-up company in Seoul, South Korea.
During his Google Hangouts interview with the company, Kim pointed to his research experience solving global problems. With guidance from UWL faculty mentor Gargi Chaudhuri, Kim used high-resolution satellite images of Mumbai, India, along with GIS analysis, to identify slum areas in the city.
The city of Mumbai has one of the biggest slums in the world. Since slums do not fall within the legal realm of settlements, it’s difficult to keep track of where new slums pop up and how far the slum area is expanding. Satellite images give a bird’s eye view of an area, which is useful to provide a holistic view of the city.
Kim used a deep learning based satellite image classification algorithm to automatically detect informal housing from the high-resolution images. The algorithm used the roof materials and irregular structures to train his algorithm to identify slums within an urban area.
The script is open-source and can be used by the government or non-profit organizations to continually track where the slum areas are moving and expanding. This can be used for efficient planning of resources within the urban area.
Kim wasn’t always interested in GIS. When he came to UWL, he planned to major in biology. During general education courses, he took geography and met Chaudhuri. That connection led to more discussions about the applications of GIS, which got Kim excited.
“With GIS, you are not just making a map, you are doing an analysis of a large amount of data and trying to show people how that data can help them understand what is going on in society or the environment,” he says.
GIS has broad applications even beyond that, he explains, including fields from biology to economics. “That is the coolest thing about GIS,” he says.
Kim shared his enthusiasm for his GIS applications related to Mumbai’s slums during the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Atlanta, Georgia; Research in the Rotunda at the state capitol, and at the Midwest Undergraduate Research Symposium in Madison. He also received an Undergraduate Research and Creativity Grant to support his work in fall 2018.
Those experiences, along with a GIS internship at the Upper Midwest Environment and Science Center, have all been amazing learning experiences, he says.
Kim chose UWL because it was close to the high school he attended in Minnesota. When he came, he found a small campus with big opportunities for students and passionate people, he says. Research-related opportunities have tested skills he learned in classes and given him confidence entering his career.
He feels good about his future, he says. But his departure home to South Korea won’t be easy, he adds.
“I’ve made a lot of friends here,” he says. “I’m going to miss them.”
Two sides of Mumbai
While Mumbai has one of the biggest slums in the world, is also called the “financial capital of India,” and has the most expensive property values in the world — even higher than New York city. The socio-economic situation of the slums is starkly different than the rest of the city. Slums are informal settlements with high-density population, poor quality of life and lack urban services. Smaller slums are also sometimes temporary as they are moved or destroyed due to government intervention.