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Balloon & Kite Mapping

09 Jun 17:49 109,241 views | Last edited by mathew 10 months ago | shortlink

The KAPtery marches on

by cfastie 1 day ago | 5 | 234 views | 3

After a year of 3D printing camera rigs for aerial mapping, I would have expected to be bored. In...

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a history of crediting contributions

by mathew 2 days ago | 2 | 244 views | 2

photo credit @Stevie, Washington University students build camera rigs. Giving proper credit for...

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Talleres de Fotografía de bajo coste desde el aire en Madrid

by pablo 3 days ago | 1 | 541 views | 2

Fotografía de bajo coste desde el aire es un proyecto educativo que para enseñar técnicas de docu...

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Dvorichansky National Park in Ukraine, our test ground for balloon-mapping

by Alex_the_Ukrainian 6 days ago | 1 | 250 views | 2

This is a stub of the post, it will take me couple of days more to upload a full text. Today I u...

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Kharkiv' DIY egg-shaped balloons

by Alex_the_Ukrainian 6 days ago | 1 | 233 views | 4

Today I upload some more detailed photos of the DIY egg-shaped balloon. The first test sample was...

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Balloon mapping in Eastern Ukraine

by Alex_the_Ukrainian 15 days ago | 9 | 348 views | 4

Experiments on eco-mapping using DIY balloons are underway here in Kharkiv, Ukraine [ref_1], by ...

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DustDuino Data Quality

by Willie 21 days ago | 1 | 466 views | 4

What level of accuracy can the DustDuino provide? There is an enormous need for low-cost air pol...

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GeoPhilly Balloon Mapping Workshop - April 22nd, 2015

by SeanKMcGinnis about 1 month ago | 0 | 340 views | 1

The Philadelphia Chapter will be co-hosting our second Balloon Mapping Workshop on April 22nd, 20...

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More research on "balloon-mapping" »


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GLAM Two-Tether Balloon Method: navigating urban waterways about 1 month ago by MollyDanielsson 3 283 0
Aerial Balloon Mapping 4 months ago by aferland 28 1,203 1
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Youth Balloon Mapping Workshop Curriculum 8 months ago by warren 3 1,236 2
Balloon Mapping Guide 10 months ago by warren 2 1,427 0
Mapping Curriculum: High Altitude Mapping 12 months ago by gonzoearth 8 2,227 0
NDVI from the PLOTS near infrared camera about 1 year ago by cfastie 34 20,544 0
Helium over 1 year ago by warren 9 4,115 0
Kingsland Park over 1 year ago by gdotoli 1 1,967 0
Vermont Public Lab Organizing: Toxics Action Center and Public Lab! over 1 year ago by cfastie 10 3,709 1
Balloon Mapping Media almost 2 years ago by warren 4 2,927 0
3d Mapping almost 2 years ago by warren 3 3,053 0
North Shore, Mass, Mapping Meetup: Pavilion Beach, Ipswich -- April 6, 2013 about 2 years ago by wward1400 18 10,564 0
Tidmarsh Farms meetup over 2 years ago by pablo 18 4,546 0
State of the Map, my slides & notes over 2 years ago by mathew 1 2,453 0
Hydrogen Balloons over 2 years ago by mathew 6 8,612 1
Helium Kite over 2 years ago by mathew 4 3,559 0
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Canon A495 Tips over 2 years ago by cfastie 14 5,460 0
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GrassrootsMappingBelizeMarch10 almost 3 years ago by warren 2 1,720 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeMarch5 almost 3 years ago by warren 2 1,704 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeFeb25 almost 3 years ago by warren 2 1,705 2
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Google Earth Publishes Community-created Maps from the Public Lab Archive almost 3 years ago by Shannon 1 1,776 2

How Can I Do This?

Our whole toolkit is linked out below, but really fast:

  1. Buy our balloon kit, assemble your own, or buy/make a kite.
  2. find a good camera.
  3. determine how you will trigger the camera, (we suggest a rubber band) or pick out a timelapse app for your smartphone.
  4. build a simple housing from a plastic bottle.
  5. find a site to map that is five miles from an airport and not Washington D.C. (or learn about the regulations yourself)
  6. follow the pre-flight checklist(pdf) and quickstart guide(pdf) to safely fill up your balloon and fly!
  7. maneuver your balloon at your site
  8. sort your images on your desktop (Mac,Windows) or with Mapmill.
  9. make them into a map with Mapknitter.
  10. Print a poster of your map from Mapknitter, see your map join the public record in our archive, and if you'd like, even in Google Earth.
  11. Share your expertise with others and help stitch maps by joining the Cartography Collective

Willie Schubert over at the GeoJournalism Handbook has made a printable walk-through including many of these steps

Why Balloons and Kites?

These tools are being developed to provide a low cost, easy to use, and safe methods for making maps and aerial images. Over the last two years, we’ve built a global community of mappers who are engaged in discussion around the development and use of this tool and others.

Normally aerial maps are made from satellites and airplanes. The balloon and kite ground-based approach introduces an on-demand capability where events or environmental conditions are mapped at a specific moment in time. Our community is particularly interested in applying this to civic and environmental issues.

Maps are often used by those in power to exert influence over territory, or control territorial narratives. "Grassroots mapping" attempts to invert this dynamic by using maps as a mode of communication and as evidence for an alternative, community-owned definition of a territory. To date, our tools have been used to contest official maps or rhetoric by enabling communities to map sites that are not included in official maps. In Lima Peru, members of an informal settlement developed maps of their community as evidence of their habitation, while on the Gulf Coast of the US, locally produced maps of oil are being used to document damage that is underreported by the state.

Browse maps and data generated with this technique in the Public Laboratory Archive

Browse Research Notes on Balloon Mapping


A short video by Mathew Lippincott on setting up and launching your balloon.


Applications and Example Uses

Residents of the Gulf Coast are using balloons and kites to produce their own aerial imagery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill… documentation that will be essential for environmental and legal use in coming years. We believe in complete open access to spill imagery and are releasing all imagery from the oil spill mapping project into the public domain. Browse maps and data from the Gulf Coast and elsewhere in the Public Laboratory Archive

Lake Borgne, Louisiana

Get Involved

Grassroots Mapping Toolkit

Our aerial mapping toolkit is a simplified kite and balloon aerial photography system for easy and accessible high-resolution map-making. The tookit consists of:

Flight platforms: Assembling a balloon kit will cost from $100-200, including helium.

Camera housings: Single Line systems: The PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig wraps around the small and medium sized cameras (up to micro 4/3) for crash protection while firmly mounting it in a position for vertical images.

For heavy cameras, a Trash Can Rig offers more protection.

Multiple Line Systems: these are more complex to build but can provide added stability, especially useful for video. Several people have created Picavet rigs.

Cameras: A small camera that supports continuous shooting mode and a large storage card, or an excellent camera phone are our preferred options.

Mapmaking software: Public Laboratory's MapKnitter is easy to use browser software for map making. Continue on to MapKnitter Guide and MapKnitter Help for more information.

Useful guides: Our latest guides can always be found on the Guides page, including:

Curricula and workshops: Our Curriculum-Guide covers the entire process and some theory behind mapping. It is still in beta.

Advanced Techniques

Places to start contributing


Tags: balloon-mapping list:grassrootsmapping warren tabbed:notes tabbed:wikis proven-in-the-field tool