We know at this point that Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, but it can be difficult to understand the true extent of the damage without being there. We’ve seen some images and some video but Mark Zuckerberg is taking it to another level.
In a new partnership with the Red Cross, Zuck is taking to virtual reality to assist relief efforts.
In a presentation from Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, Zuckerberg took Facebook users on a 360-degree tour of the hurricane destroyed island, using a combination of artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to determine areas with the most significant need.
Explaining his use of technology and its purpose, Zuckerberg said, “We use artificial intelligence to build what we call ‘population maps’ so you can look at satellite imagery of an area and get a sense of where it is that people actually live and the density of different places and where there’s infrastructure going to in those places. That’s going to help the Red Cross figure out where people are who need help.”
He also went through Facebook’s plans to restore internet connectivity on the island, which has been struggling to get power and resources back after the category 3 hurricane slammed the island with 125 mile per hour winds last month.
Zuckerberg said his company has already sent employees to the island to investigate damage and get networks working properly.
Speaking on the importance of internet and its integral role in the island’s ability to communicate domestically and abroad, he said, “When you are in the middle of a disaster like this, it’s really important that people have access to the internet. But it’s also important so that when relief workers go down there, they can coordinate with each other and know where people need help.”
There has been a bit of blowback from the VR tour though. A few of Zuck’s critics are calling him “tone deaf” saying that having the avatar chit-chat in front of flooded and destroyed home made it seem like he was cashing in on a natural disaster to plug his Occulus brand.
While his intentions were probably in the right spot, no matter how it came off, this is the first time that VR has been used for disaster coverage and we’re sure it won’t be the last.