It could soon be possible to find parks with ample shade and sun protection through your phone, thanks to new technology being developed by Queensland researchers.
The online platform being developed by researchers at the University of Southern Queensland will provide live shade maps and UV level forecasts for parks.
The team, led by Associate Professor Nathan Downs, will produce a customised solar UV index shade profile.
This will be done through a machine learning model that uses satellite imagery to map the position of trees, shade cloths, buildings and roof structures.
“Our technology takes away the guesswork by telling how much shade and UV exposure there will be at a certain time at a park.” – Associate Professor Nathan Downs
By integrating this with a playground shade protection index, the team will be able to take into account the season and daily sun angle for each park.
Currently, only subjective shade assessments or audits for parks are available and these are not based on physical modelling.
“Our technology takes away the guesswork by telling how much shade and UV exposure there will be at a certain time at a park, including fixed structures within the park like a barbecue site or playground,” Mr Downs said in a statement.
“If we do enough maps, we would be able to find out what are the top five sun-safe parks in each region.”
This technology could be used to inform the design of future park and playground developments and improve current outdoor areas, he said.
The use of artificial intelligence for the research will speed up the process, according to Mr Downs.
“Rather than employ a team of 100 people on the ground to go out with rulers and take measurements, which is what we used to do 30 years ago, we can do a whole map of Brisbane, for instance, very quickly and accurately,” Mr Downs said.
“Almost every playground has bark or a soft cover surface, but only one-third of them have a shade cloth over the top.” – Associate Professor Nathan Downs
Parks within the university’s local communities, including Brisbane, Ipswich, Springfield and Toowoomba, will be the focus of the research.
However, the team is hoping to eventually provide shade profiles for all parks in every capital city across the country.
Mr Downs believes a lack of covered play and seating areas is exposing many families to greater skin cancer risks.
“Designing parks and playgrounds that provide better protection from the sun is one thing that could help address the issue,” he said.
“Almost every playground has bark or a soft cover surface, but only one-third of them have a shade cloth over the top.”
USQ has been collecting UV radiation data for the past 25 years, Mr Downs said.
“We wanted to do something that would improve people’s lives and benefit the wider community.
“We hope it ultimately changes people’s behaviour to reduce the risk of skin cancers and eye diseases like cataracts.”
Main image: Associate Professor Nathan Downs (Image supplied by University of Southern Queensland)
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