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Balloon & Kite Mapping

25 Jun 17:10 116,364 views | Last edited by warren 9 days ago | shortlink

Mapping the Sweetwater Festival in Rolla, British Columbia

by ann 14 days ago | 0 | 291 views | 0

On June 13, 2015, I led a balloon mapping workshop at the Sweetwater 905 Arts and Music Festival ...

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KAP comes first

by cfastie 16 days ago | 0 | 406 views | 2

This week Bre Pettis left Stratasys, two years after Stratasys bought MakerBot, the 3D printer co...

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Prince George Mapping Workshop

by ann 18 days ago | 0 | 367 views | 1

Aerial images, taken where you need them, when you need them, can be powerful tools. Imagine bein...

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Sweetwater Festival Mapping Workshop

by ann 22 days ago | 0 | 362 views | 0

Public Lab will be leading a mapping workshop at the annual Sweetwater 905 Arts Festival in Rolla...

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OpenDroneMap,OpenAerialMap,and MapKnitter

by smathermather 26 days ago | 4 | 487 views | 2

A great post a couple weeks ago from Jeff Warren addressed some of the questions of what are the ...

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June Mapping Picnic

by stevie about 1 month ago | 2 | 769 views | 0

June 27th Public Lab will be hosting a Mapping Picnic at Wetland Watchers Park in Norco, Louisian...

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Mobius cameras and smaller balloons

by warren about 1 month ago | 7 | 496 views | 7

I've been curious about how little helium it'd take to lift a Möbius camera as we've been using f...

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The Magic Behind MapKnitter: Leaflet.DistortableImage

by justinmanley about 1 month ago | 3 | 724 views | 5

Leaflet.DistortableImage is a new plugin for the JavaScript mapping library Leaflet, written by ...

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More research on "balloon-mapping" »


Title Last edited Edits Pageviews Likes
How to Map 5 days ago by stevie 11 634 2
Urban Waters Mapping, NOLA 9 days ago by stevie 74 2,328 4
Revealing the Invisible in Spain 4 months ago by MollyDanielsson 2 649 0
Vadi Asbestonim 5 months ago by asbest 27 1,200 0
GLAM Two-Tether Balloon Method: navigating urban waterways 5 months ago by MollyDanielsson 3 773 0
Aerial Balloon Mapping 8 months ago by aferland 28 1,986 1
Sky Camera 11 months ago by mercyorangi 12 8,231 8
Youth Balloon Mapping Workshop Curriculum 12 months ago by warren 3 1,745 2
Balloon Mapping Guide about 1 year ago by warren 2 1,903 0
Mapping Curriculum: High Altitude Mapping over 1 year ago by gonzoearth 8 2,617 0
NDVI from the PLOTS near infrared camera over 1 year ago by cfastie 34 23,355 0
Helium over 1 year ago by warren 9 4,564 5
Kingsland Park over 1 year ago by gdotoli 1 2,332 0
Vermont Public Lab Organizing: Toxics Action Center and Public Lab! almost 2 years ago by cfastie 10 3,998 1
Balloon Mapping Media about 2 years ago by warren 4 3,252 0
3d Mapping about 2 years ago by warren 3 3,366 0
North Shore, Mass, Mapping Meetup: Pavilion Beach, Ipswich -- April 6, 2013 over 2 years ago by wward1400 18 10,937 0
Tidmarsh Farms meetup over 2 years ago by pablo 18 4,868 0
State of the Map, my slides & notes over 2 years ago by mathew 1 2,790 0
Hydrogen Balloons almost 3 years ago by mathew 6 10,307 1
Helium Kite almost 3 years ago by mathew 4 3,915 0
Payload Weight almost 3 years ago by mathew 3 2,355 0
Canon A495 Tips almost 3 years ago by cfastie 14 6,027 0
Bamboo/tyvek kite and solar balloon construction workshop about 3 years ago by liz 32 7,117 0
dual camera trigger about 3 years ago by mathew 4 3,873 1
GrassrootsMappingBelizeMarch10 about 3 years ago by warren 2 1,944 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeMarch5 about 3 years ago by warren 2 1,933 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeFeb25 about 3 years ago by warren 2 1,914 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeFeb21 about 3 years ago by warren 2 1,901 2
Grassroots Mapping Coal River about 3 years ago by warren 2 2,253 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

You can also read many stories about these tools in use around the world at the Public Lab Stories page

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