The Public Lab Blog

stories from the Public Lab community

About the blog | Research | Methods

Balloon and Kite Mapping Stories, Part 1

by warren | over 2 years ago | 0 | 2

This is a series on #balloon-mapping, as part of our month-long Kickstarter campaign to launch Mini Balloon and Kite Kits:

Wow, we'd first like to thank everyone for our first 2 days -- it's very exciting to be at 33% of our goal so early in the campaign! Special thanks to everyone who's helped with outreach -- as a community project, we depend on your help.

Many people have posted #balloonselfies, which is a fun way to show support, as well as a great way to help spread the word about the amazing work our community has done with balloons and kites over the past 7 years.

In that vein, we're going to be highlighting the stories and work of dozens of people using Public Lab tools around the world as the campaign progresses.

image description

Flood Mapping in Jakarta

Jakarta is flooding and it happens every year.

Willie Shubert (@Willie) works with a network of environmental journalists and they make maps:

We sourced flooding data from local disaster response agency. The flood looks like this.

So we knew where to go and headed out with a kite and a gopro hero 3 to try and make a map. We ended up with some cool pictures.

Read more at:

image description

All the Shingle Ladies

This group of students at the Thacher School in California used aerial mapping to look at roof conditions:

There's no place like home right? If that's the case, then it's important to make sure that our homes are working and functioning properly; which is why we wanted to use aerial mapping techniques to find out if there was something wrong with the rooftops of the dorms at the Thacher School. After living at Thacher for three years, we are all aware of general information regarding each dorm, and we have lived in three out of the six dorms. Before starting this experiment, we suspected that the older dorms were potentially more vulnerable to water leakage and/or other complications.

Read more about Clare, Helena, Pria and Zoe's AP environmental science project here:

Community stormwater research

This group in New Orleans (also lead image, both by @stevie) made maps of areas affected by stormwater runoff, as part of an ongoing series of community workshops on stormwater. image description

The goal of this event was to both learn about mapping and also capture aerial and ground survey images of the study sites. We will use these in the next workshop where we'll be working on a study design for our questions. We started the event by revisiting the research questions from the first workshop. Those are:

1. How long does water stay standing in an area?

2. How much rain does it take to flood?

Read more about their work at:

Send us your stories!

We're looking for more stories -- and great images -- to highlight, so please tweet out a picture and tell your story -- and mention @PublicLab!

Read more Follow

balloon-mapping kite-mapping kickstarter blog

A New Balloon and Kite Mapping campaign: Kickstarter Gold and Beyond!

by Bronwen | over 2 years ago | 0 | 8

We've just launched a new kite and balloon mapping project as a part of Kickstarter Gold, a new initiative designed to help highlight the evolution of initiatives that have received funding in the past.

We're obviously very excited to have the chance to share the work that Public Lab community members have done over the years: developing tools and methodologies for community-led research, and creating a robust and supportive environment for new kinds of investigation, information access, and advocacy.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be getting the word out about our existing balloon and kite kits that you all have done so much with, as well as a few new "prototyping" versions, using smaller kites and balloons. We're looking forward to drawing some attention to a set of tools we're really proud of, and are excited about connecting to a large audience about the ways that community driven science can happen where it's needed.

Please help us get the word out -- and in the coming days, we'll be following up to ask for more input as well, as we'd love to highlight all your amazing work and balloon-mapping stories! Take a look at our press release here, and visit our campaign at the link below.

Thank you, as always for your support!

image description

Read more Follow

balloon-mapping kite-mapping kickstarter blog

Kite Aerial Mapping for Golden Trout Camp: Exploring Techniques for Mapping in Remote Locations

by lydia123 | over 2 years ago | 2 | 2

Authors: Lydia, Conor, Jane Link that helped us with our project: Introduction Our group set out to find a viable way to map areas of Golden Trout to assess grazing for the donkeys, surface water flow, foot trails, and other necessary information. Because Golden Trout Camp (henceforth GTC) is around an eight hour drive from Ojai, we were unable to put these methods to practice, so our goal was to create a simulation for something to be replicated there. This will help GTC, an 80 acre area in the Sierras with dense sections of forests, over 100 ft. tall trees, large elevation changes, and large meadows/clearings, by providing a simple and low cost DIY method to take detailed aerial images to address conditions in remote locations such as Golden Trout Camp. Additionally, this method is easily replicated to find changes over time, either short or long term. We had the ability to see the current map of GTC, which provided us with some information about the area as well as different difficulties that could arise. From this, we were able to find similarities between GTC and where we were flying our kite. This allowed us to get an accurate simulation of what it would be like at GTC. Aerial mapping is a good way to contribute to this because up-to-date images and maps are vital to the function of GTC. It would allow up-to-date images of different foot trails, grazing areas, wildlife, plants, and surface water, which would help day-to-day functions at the camp.

Methods Equipment G-Sky Hi Sky Delta 7 x 3.5 ft. kite (note: significant wind necessary to keep kite airborne) Canon PowerShot A490 camera and memory card Top of plastic juice container (stabilizing contraption) Laptop (to load photos onto) String Rock (to hold down shutter) Rubber bands Gathering data Procedure Find open location and judge wind strength Set up kite Turn on camera Put camera in the rubber band contraption (4 rubber bands tied together, as seen in image below) Secure small rock above the shutter so that the camera will continuously take photos Take camera with rubber bands attached and place it in container, with the lens facing downwards Stretching the rubber bands, secure the camera in its container by attaching the string to the outside of the container.

Attaching the camera Attach the container, with the secured camera, to the kite string hanging approximately 10 ft. below the actual kite. (We originally attempted to attach the camera directly to the kite, however this caused the kite to be weighed down.) Have one person hold onto the kite giving around 30 ft. of slack.

Preparing to launch the kite Another person, holding the string, walks backwards to help launch the kite When the string is taut, the person holding the kite releases it, and the person with the string starts to run backwards, in order for the kite to gain elevation. However, if there is a lack of wind, use an ATV or other motorized vehicle in order to pick up speed and allow the kite to gain elevation.

Conor beginning his drive around the Gymkhana Field Slowly let the string out to raise the kite to the desired height Using the wind, maneuver the kite, to find the best location for taking your photos

Kite visible very high over the ridge If possible, use different kite flying maneuvers in order to stabilize the kite and camera. This will lead to clearer and more useful images.. After desired amount of time (we suggest 20-30 minutes), slowly reel in your kite looking out for any potential obstacles When the kite reaches the ground, remove rock, turn off camera, and download photos on to computer.

We were able to gather data through uploading the hundreds of images from the camera’s memory card onto a laptop and looking through them. Although many of the images were not helpful (because they were taken during the setup, were blurry, etc.) a large amount of them were very clear and useful. Because of the height that the kite reached, we were able to gather photos of a wide area that included fields, trees, and roads.

Area that we were mapping for the simulation

Analysis With the photos that we took, we determined some of the beneficial aspects of kite mapping, as well as some of its limitations. We found that kite mapping is ideal for places that are hard to access, as helium is unnecessary, as well as for taking pictures of large areas with many obstacles. In areas with dense forests, beginning the flight of either a kite or balloon can be extremely difficult and dangerous to the equipment. With a kite, however, you can find an area to launch, then using wind direction, maneuver the kite above the area that you initially wanted to launch (densely forested areas, etc.). Despite these benefits, kite mapping can be problematic when there is a lack of wind, lack of an open location to launch the kite, or too much wind, where you will not be able to stabilize your kite and camera, resulting in bad photos. Kite mapping, when used correctly, can be a great solution to problems that may come from normal aerial mapping, using a balloon and helium.

Results What worked and what didn’t? Which Kite To Use Through multiple test runs, we were able to determine which kite to use depending on wind conditions. When there was not much wind, the large kite is the the better one to use, as it will be easier to keep in the air. However, when the wind is severe, the smaller kite better stabilized the camera, resulting in clearer photos. How To Counteract Wind Problems One of the largest and most obvious problems that comes with aerial mapping using a kite is the lack of wind. The larger the kite, the easier it is to get it in the air as well as stabilize to get good images. Why Kite Mapping is Useful in the Backcountry One reason that aerial mapping is ideal for Golden Trout Camp is that by using the direction that the wind is traveling, you can angle your kite to fly above dense sections of trees, where launching either a balloon or kite would be very difficult. Problems with Elevation Change One potential problem with using aerial mapping in a place like Golden Trout is that it is difficult to see the changes in elevation. In our test location, the Gymkhana Field, we found it difficult to notice the elevation change from the field to the top of the hill. We estimate that the difference in elevation is approximately 120 ft. A simple solution to this problem is to lower your kite. However, at Golden Trout the Lodgepole Pine Trees make it impossible to lower your kite far enough. That being said, a steep elevation change is noticeable on the camera, which should be sufficient enough to create a grazing plan. Generally speaking, the maneuverability of the kite should be large enough to get images of most of the 80 acres. These images are extremely clear and will allow you to see the riparian corridors, perimeters, and common paths easily, while the sheer elevation makes it difficult to identify plant species. One other problem with kite mapping is that it can make it difficult to combine the photos you receive into a map. Because of the wind, the kite will be moving fairly consistently, giving you many shots from different angles and locations making it difficult to create a map.
What did you learn? Throughout this experiment, the lens of kite mapping prompted many new experiences and lessons, as we had never done anything like it. We were able to figure out what the best kite is to use, how to fully take advantage of the uniqueness of kites, the strengths and limitations of kite mapping, as well as how to best apply these ideas in obscure locations, that we are not able to travel to. Sample photos

Recommendations Equipment (Link to aerial mapping kit used: ) For this project, the necessary pieces of equipment are a large kite, long string for the kite, a camera with the ability to take constant photos or something that aids that, and a plastic holder for the camera (see materials list for comprehensive version). We recommend observing how utilizing the different tails of the kites affect their flights (we did not have the time to complete these observations). Replications over time In order to replicate this, all that would be necessary is good kite-flying conditions. If this is achievable, replication is easy. In order to get the best results, it is best to get the kite very high so the camera covers a larger area. We had hoped to map other areas as well, such as Thacher Creek, the Cow arena, and possibly an athletic field such as the New Field or Upper Field. We were unable to map these areas because of limited time, but we were able to get enough information from the flight we did because of the mount of high quality photos we got. Future directions (improvements or additions to the methods, additional studies this makes you think of) After our first flight, we found that tying the camera lower on the line resulted in a more successful flight. When we did this, we got the kite over 600 feet in the air and were able to get many good and clear photos of areas we wouldn’t be able to photograph otherwise. We also found that using different

Reflections Through this project, we learned that the nature of kite mapping requires a lot of trial and error, and sometimes is not feasible due to conditions outside of our control. We learned how to overcome these obstacles by thinking outside of the box and employing other methods to capture our photos. Because of this hard work, we were able to attain images that aided us in our goal of providing Mr. Spaulding with information helpful to using a kite to establish a viable grazing plan and locate various ecological features of the land (riparian corridors, common paths, and perimeters) in a location that poses some difficulties, GTC.

Read more Follow

balloon-mapping kite-mapping kite remote

Last Annual Barnraising -- looking to the future

by stevie | over 2 years ago | 0 | 2

Big news coming from Public Lab: after many years of fun, creative, and successful Annual Barnraisings, this year’s event (November 3rd-5th!) will be the last of its kind -- at least for the time being -- as we shift focus to Regional Barnraisings.

Why we’re changing:

While all involved have enjoyed the Annual Barnraising, we’ve been watching trends and listening to takeaways. Over the last few years, we’ve noticed how difficult it is for people to travel all the way out to the wetlands of Louisiana, and once there, there’s not much time to work on local environmental issues. Meanwhile, we've seen a lot of growth and excitement at the Regional Barnraisings. There is a lot of passion in place-based projects, and we’re eager to put more power behind that movement.

After this year what we’ll be doing instead:

Starting in 2018, the Gulf Coast event will be reframed as a Regional Barnraising focused on local issues and with local partners. In addition, a second Regional Barnraising will happen somewhere else in the United States every year.

What are Regional Barnraisings, and how are they different?:

The first Regional Barnraising event was hosted in 2014 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Since then we’ve held them across the US in Chicago, Illinois; Val Verde, California; and this year in Morgantown, West Virginia (June 24th and 25th). We have found the Regional Barnraising event style really successful and are committing energies to growing it out.

Like all Public Lab events, the Regional events are open to anyone interested in attending. It features a specific local issue and always is hosted in partnership with at least one local partner who is on the frontlines of that issue. The event allows for people to stay local, share skill-sets, build networks of locally involved and invested partners, and tends to bring out many first timers to Public Lab. This emphasis has surged attention into specific environmental concerns and projects, made space for creative collaboration, and bolstered the ability of people to bring in fresh ideas and synergy for their projects.

What we’re committed to keeping, testing out, and integrating:

In years to come, we are committed to hosting a Regional Barnraising in the Gulf Coast annually. It is the founding location of Public Lab, and there is so much here to do! We also anticipate that the Gulf Coast event could be hosted in different states across the region.

We recognize that a shift away from one collective annual event potentially reduces people’s cross-regional collaboration. Taking that into account, we will make a targeted effort to fundraise for travel stipends for individuals who would travel to attend the regional events. As always, we encourage folks from all regions to attend all Barnraisings, regardless of where their “home base” is.

We are also committed to posting materials on Public Lab about how to host Regional Barnraisings. In our current capacity, the non-profit is able to host two Regional Barnraising events each year, but we also see room for growth in our ability to support Public Labbers in other areas around the world to host their own Regional Barnraising events, and we are committed to supporting groups who wish to do so! Also in the pipeline, we’re brainstorming for a larger environmental monitoring and community science gathering in the next couple of years.

There are a lot of ideas, and we’d love to hear yours. We’re committed to listening to feedback on this, and over time, reevaluating event styles and shifts. Don’t hesitate to write in, and we’ll also host an Open Call Tuesday, June 6th at 3pm ET (7pm GMT) on this topic. In the meantime--

Save the Date! The Annual Barnraising will be November 3rd-5th in Cocodrie Louisiana!

Annual Barnraisings through the years...


image description


image description


image description


image description


image description


image description

Read more Follow

events cocodrie barnraising event

When is it OK to work with non-open components in open source work?

by warren | over 2 years ago | 0 | 3

At Public Lab, perhaps more so than in other open hardware oriented communities, we're often remixing and re- or even mis-using off-the-shelf parts, like the point and shoot cameras in our Balloon Mapping techniques. Sometimes, parts that aren't open source themselves! (Above image: open source kites, cameras?)

But really, almost any open source tools or techniques use /some/ components that aren't open source, even if it's just duct tape or, say, a resistor. This is not to say we don't need to think about these things, or work towards more open components -- and the Open Hardware Certification by OSHWA gets at this nicely (full disclosure, I'm vice president of the OSHWA board):

Ensure all parts within the creator's control are open source. Use best efforts to distinguish any third-party proprietary components. Third-party components such as chips [ed: here they mean microchips] must have fully accessible and shareable datasheets for hardware to be considered open source.

They go on in their "Creator Contribution" Requirement:

As noted above, in order to be certified under this program all parts, designs, code, and rights under the control of the creator must be made open according to the open source hardware definition hosted by OSHWA. However, that does not necessarily mean that the entire project must or will be open source. If the creators used third party closed components outside of their control, they are unable -- and are therefore not required -- to open souce those components. While it is strongly prefered to use open components when possible, OSHWA recognizes the reality that this is not always possible. The "creator contribution" requirement is an intentionally flexible one, designed to be applicable to individuals working alone and multinational corporations.

So among other things, it's extra important to clearly state what is and what is not open source!

Outside the box

At Public Lab, we think a lot about this because some methods don't currently have open hardware equivalents, and although we're interested in those, we think of open hardware more broadly than just what's inside a particular device or object. We're committed to open sourcing the practices that put an object to use -- the instructions, the setup, the experimental design, and the social practices that people use to put these things to work, learn and teach one another, and transform tools through reimagining their use.

With that in mind, and with an eye towards helping people investigate environmental problems, we use some of the following questions as a guideline:

  • A Canon camera is not open source, but we use it in our open source balloon mapping methods -- same with a Mobius camera. A $100,000 electron scanning microscope is not open source -- could we incorporate that method?
  • A method or technique can be open source if the means to reproduce the steps are openly and thoroughly published under open source licenses. By rough analogy, an open source website can be viewed on a closed source browser, or an analytic technique using commercial, non-open test tubes could have open source documentation.

What factors do we consider?

  • Are the components widely available and affordable?
  • Can all components be swapped for alternatives which are cheaper or just equivalent (another brand of camera, another type of microscopy)?
  • Does any component "lock" practitioners into an ecosystem or platform that (by design or due to lack of alternatives) presents significant barriers to escape?
  • Basically, are all components easily swappable "commodities" and not specialized equipment that are hard to get?

One reason this makes sense is that if we develop a set of practices (usage in the field, a group with literacy and expertise, means to learn and teach a technique) around a component (tool) that is closed, we ought to be able to switch over to an open alternative as it becomes available.

The skills we build as a community of practice should transfer. This has the added benefit that we shouldn't feel as "competitive" choosing between different tools -- because we should be able to switch between them.

Read more Follow

open-source licensing open-hardware blog

Thinking about local level advocacy

by stevie | over 2 years ago | 1 | 5

Image credit: Carolyn Buell, New Durham, NH. Planning board meeting on proposed quarry with local opposition.

In making changes, or getting something accomplished in a system, @Mathew Lippincott once advised me that “you have to talk to the person who can say yes.” In the environmental and social justice movements, I’m often caught thinking about the large scale- big industries, and the massive systems we’re all working in, and often against. It’s easy to think that the fight has to be as big as the issue, but what if it doesn't? As I’ve thought about policies that help protect communities and the environment, I often think of the national ones. But now more than ever, with the shifts and changes in the federal government, it is becoming more important that we think differently about these struggles and strategies.

Among other things, this brings about a hot topic discussion: the idea of “scale-ability.” While that terms has a lot to unpack, one question people seem to fall in different camps on is: Are efforts in local communities scale-able, or replicable in other places? And if not (which many believe), how can we have large scale, systemic change?

I recently went to the Extreme Energy Extraction Summit in Dickinson, Texas. Outside of all the amazing people I met and those I was excited to see again, I wanted to share on a topic and group I learned about. I was able to dive into a conversation about the power of using local government and ordinances in fighting industry with the Energy Justice Network. Dante Swinton who has worked with the network in Baltimore on EJ and Zero Waste organizing, and Mike Ewall, Founder and Director of the Network, led this engaging discussion. They believes that local government pressure points can be extremely valuable in environmental advocacy, and that they are under utilized. They also emphasize that local county or municipal level changes in many places can pressure states to also change. A great example of this was seen in the fight against fracking in New York.

I found it interesting that their efforts focus on the local level while also, I feel, touch on some of the question of scale-ability. I wanted to capture some of the advice Mike and Dante had for people who are facing local industry threats that they want to change or challenge. Here are a series of questions they recommend that you can walk through to think about the best advocacy option forward:

1) What is the most local form of government you have?

  • Energy Justice Network believes that the smaller the government you work with, the easier it can be to deal with. If you don’t see yourself on a pathway to success on the most local level, then move up to the next tier of government.

2) What is the footprint of that level of government?

  • It’s possible that those who are affected by the industry you’re looking into live outside the political jurisdiction of the area the industry is in. You need to know who’s in the political jurisdiction of the decision maker’s space, what allies are in that space, and if your allies are in a different jurisdiction, think strategically how to use relationships.

3) Do you know what you want and what can be accomplished? Before you start talking to government, it’s important to specify this question. (Further notes on this topic below)

  • It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what you want, but it is important to know what that is before you get started talking to government. This also comes back to the idea of talking to someone who can say “yes." If you’re undecided, or your ask is too big, or outside the government’s ability to grant, they can’t, and won’t say yes.

4) What do the regulations say your state is able to do on the local level? (Further notes on this topic below)

  • Different states allow you to do different things on the local level. The Energy Justice Network has a great resource to help people figure this out when it comes to air, solid waste laws and other local initiatives. This is called preemption, but the idea is basically that some states say that local laws can’t be more strict than state or federal laws, while other states allow for local laws to be more strict. The complicated thing is that this is not uniform.

Breaking down the harder questions:

Before talking to government

Mike and Dante had some great advice for talking with local government. First off they mentioned that it’s important to find the champion for your cause in government. Once you’ve figured out your ask, request a meeting with them and have them help you figure out what you can do together. But before you request a meeting, it’s important to know what you want, and what you can get done. Mike and Dante had a few suggestions on this:

Find something that people can agree on:

The first step in identifying a platform to bring to your local government is to find something that people can agree on. While issues around industry can be sensitive, especially related to jobs, economy and the environment, there are things that people will generally agree on. Identify what that is for your group, and make it an issue that people can get behind. One example that Mike and Dante suggest that works well is the argument for human health concerns. Others ideas could include important pieces of local culture or history the community wants to protect, economic benefits of choosing one development path forward over another, the unwritten burdens (externalities) that would be born by the community should the industry come in, or nuisances such as noise and heavy traffic.

Mike and Dante walked through an example of the steps a group could take in pushing for stricter health and reporting requirements on an industry. I’ll use their example of arguing that particulate matter monitoring should be more strict than the national requirements to explain the rest of their advice on the topic.

Use facts people can understand

The second step has to do with education, but the key is to use facts people can identify with. In this example, you could educate that breathing particulate matter is bad for your health. Then ground your facts with examples such as “that amount of pollution is like adding XX number of cars on the road” or “in industries where this amount of particulate matter is released, OSHA requires that workers there wear masks.” Then bring in what you identified that people agree and see as important, such as: “we want to keep our children safe.”

Argue for something that can be done

If your goal is to keep something from happening in your community, Mike and Dante suggest work finding the “sweet spot” between “what is reasonable, and what is impossible.” Reasonable is proposing something that can be done, impossible is something that it would complicate (or cost) the industry from being able to do what they want to do.

Reasonable: “We know that that this industry would add a significant amount of particulate matter into the environment. We also know that there is technology available for us to know how much particulate matter is being released into the environment in real time. Since we are a community with sensitive children, it’s important that we all know what we’re breathing at all times and want to require that the industry use the best available technology for real time monitoring, and that the data is publicly available.”

Impossible: We’ve done our homework, and know that this technology exists, so while it's not impossible (say if there were no such thing), we also know that it's really expensive. This makes fulfilling this requirement a technical hurdle for the industry.

The sweet spot: We’ve shown the need for something, that thing exists, but it’s potentially prohibitively expensive for the industry to achieve.

What do the regulations say your state is able to do on the local level?

While many states have the ability for local level ordinances to be more stringent than national, as mentioned above, many states have more gray areas around these policies and others simply don’t allow for it. So what if you’re not in a state that allows for these local ordinances?

Mike and Dante suggest that you push for local ordinances that help you accomplish your goal without overstepping what the state is allowed to do on say air or water. Some suggestions they had included looking into drafting ordinances on things such as: the weight of trucks on a given road or a pollution tax. Mike also suggested becoming creative with what you have locally that people would agree on being important. Mike gave an example of a town that wanted to protect a pedestrian bridge in the fight against the incoming LNG terminal. The bridge was so low that access to the proposed terminal would not be possible. The results from the town fighting to protect the bridge kept the new terminal from coming in.

What do you think?

I’m interested in hearing what other people think on this topic. I’ve been really encouraged by those bringing forth new, innovative ideas, and those who are dusting off older strategies. While I don’t see local ordinance work a silver bullet to many of the things we’re all working on, I do think that’s it’s a valuable resource to keep in mind as we all continue our efforts.

I’m excited to learn more. Have you tried to make changes in your local municipal our county level? What have been some of the successes or challenges you’ve encountered? Anything you’ve found that works well, or that you’ve struggled with?

Thanks to Mike, Dante and the Energy Justice Network for their hard work and resources!

Read more Follow

community organizing blog advocacy