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Thank you for another wonderful year of Public Lab!

by Becki | almost 5 years ago | 1 | 1

Last week marked my three year anniversary as Public Lab staff, though I’ve been working with Public Lab since the mapping of the BP disaster. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come as a community and an organization since our scrappy band of aerial mappers spread across the Gulf Coast in the wake of the oil spill, mapping hundreds of miles of spill with just a few shared kite and balloon kits.



Looking back on 2015 with my usual December nostalgia, I’m so proud of the work we’ve accomplished this year. We wrapped up an great project in partnership with the EPA Urban Waters program and our Gulf Coast community to map wetland restoration projects around New Orleans, marking the end of our first Federal grant partnership - a project that wouldn’t have been possible without Stevie and our Gulf Coast crew. We also celebrated Public Lab’s 5th anniversary by sharing funny, inspiring and heartening memories from the community. And we hosted another round of Barnraisings, this year in Chicago and New Orleans, where we welcomed new partners to the community, met online collaborators in person for the first time, launched The Barnraiser daily news, and ate an unimaginable amount of tacos.


This is all to say THANK YOU to the entire Public Lab community for another great year of collaboration, creative thinking, and camaraderie. What was your favorite Public Lab moment in 2015 and what do you aspire to in 2016?

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Simple Aerial Photomapping at EWB West Coast Regional Conference, Cal Poly, 2015

by patcoyle | almost 5 years ago | 1 | 3

What I want to do

Continue to make potential users like Engineers Without Borders teams aware of the Public Lab DIY mapping tools. For those who need up to date, high-resolution imagery, this technique is so accessible that it should not be overlooked.

My attempt and results

I did a workshop at the Engineers Without Borders Regional Conference, at Cal Poly on 11/14/15. I've done this the last six years, at the Regional conferences on the Peninsula at YouTube's HQ, in Portland, at Cal Poly, in San Diego and at Davis. I also presented a poster at EWB-USA International Conference.

Again, the 60-minute session went by in a flash. Get ready ahead of time. Get balloons or kites ready. Be ready to attach rig. Be ready to go. Again it paid off. We had trouble in that the small balloon configuration with a pair of small Mobius cameras was pushed horizontally down and across the nearby building. However, we were able to get altitude and reel in our balloons without incidence. However as a result the imagery was relatively low altitude.

Ground based photos are here:

2015 EWB West Coast Regional Aerial Photomapping Workshop

There was interest in the autostitching tools, as a way to speed up the processing. I also noted the AutoDesk's free Windows PC, IOS and Android tablet based 123DCatch replaced pure web-based version, and does offer the ability to process up to 70 images to produce a 3D model.

In the interest of time, I used Photoshop's Photomerge feature to autostitch a set of photos and place the composite image using Mapknitter.


Questions and next steps

Continue to explore where Mobius cameras with non-fish eye lenses and small kites or balloons fit into the tool set and make sense to use. It is worth noting that the Mobius camera rolling shutter and the inherent movement of the camera result in numerous images where linear features are warped or distorted and not optimal, or even useful, for mapping. However, typically a flight results in a sufficient number of relatively undistorted images that are useful.

Why I'm interested

Kite and balloon aerial photomapping is a useful technique for those who need up to date, high-resolution imagery. This technique is so accessible that it should not be overlooked.

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Cross-posting:: The Tapajos River communities begin to monitor water quality with sensor

by stevie | almost 5 years ago | 0 | 2

This is a cross-posting from InfoAmazonia's blog page, and google-translated from Portuguese. Check out the original post with pictures here. The above photo came from InfoAmazonia.

Neat project, we were lucky to hear more about it at this year's Barnraising from @vjpixel.

Blog post by: Giovanny Vera 11/24/2015 17:20

Did you know that 73% of Brazil's fresh water is in the Amazon? But, however, the water content addressed in this region is about 22% less than the rest of Brazil?

With this in mind, the Network Project InfoAmazonia developed with support from Google Social Impact Challenge, a low-cost monitoring system that analyzes water quality for human consumption in the Amazon. We are also creating an articulated monitoring network with communities. The water data collected by Mother Moorhen sensor will be shown in real time on InfoAmazonia site and alerts are sent to consumers via SMS.

"What we do is monitor this water is untreated water that people gather from different sources, such as wells, ponds or even directly from the river," said VJ pixel, Network coordinator InfoAmazonia. "We consider that our project is precisely to give relevant information to people about the water they are consuming," he adds.

During the month of October, InfoAmazonia Network team was in the region of the Lower Tapajós, Pará, to conduct training workshops for the installation and maintenance of the sensors in Santarém, Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos. In full sensors were installed in 18 points of these municipalities, both in communities, villages and cities.

The mission began in Santarém on 13 October with events on 14, 15 and 16. In the first two days happened electronics workshops in partnership with the Health & Joy Project and the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA) a basic electronics and other advanced electronics. On the last day, was presented the design of quality sensors water InfoAmazonia Network and made ​​operational demonstration Mother of the water. During this workshop were chosen, with the decision of the participants, local that would be monitored. Points Once defined, the volunteers were responsible for making contact with the responsible and ensure a minimum structure (access to the site, stairs and electricity) for installation along with the project team.

After defining the points to be monitored, three teams were created to carry out installation of the sensors. One remained on the right bank of the Tapajós River to facilities in the urban area of ​​Santarém, Belterra, National Forest Tapajos and Mojuí dos Campos. The other teams crossed to the left bank to carry out the facilities in communities and villages in the Extractive Reserve (Resex) Tapajós-Arapiuns.

The first installation was made on Saturday the 17th, at the headquarters of the Health & Joy Project, and other facilities were soon made. In Resex seven points were installed, one of them in an Indian village. Each installation lasted between 1:30 a.m. and 3 hours, with a direct participation of the inhabitants of each monitoring point.

The main difficulty technique was that "we had hoped that the water tanks stay full most of the time, and found that they empty with a very high frequency," said Pixel. The solution was to place a small container in the water tank with sensors so that if the water of the water tank runs out, they will continue to be submerged. If the sensors remain out of water for a long time they stop working.

The participation of volunteers and officials was one of the most valuable contributions of the communities. Local and residents own leaders understand the need to know the quality of the water they use and drink in their homes. "Communities are the direction of the project. The project was created for communities to have an information network that help them better manage alternative systems and the charge of the competent bodies the quality of water supply guarantee, "said Gina Leite, the InfoAmazonia Network.

The communities that were installed the equipment, InfoAmazonia Network only guided the installation. So the first stage of training was more theoretical, and the second part was a practical training, explained Pixel. It was done that way because it is necessary that the person knows to get the equipment for both lead to another place as to service. "We need to empower people in the misuse of the equipment and also in design methodology," says Pixel.

"The project, besides being innovative brings the issue of transparency regarding information on water quality. Having control of water quality in real time and accessible via the Internet is an extraordinary contribution to the quality of life "Paulo Lima, Health & Joy Project Currently the product is in the validation phase of the information that is picking up and is a very important step to create reliability in the data, says Gina Leite. Then the site will be launched to give visibility to local conditions. "We hope that the initiative provokes more interest communities, schools, universities, the media about the importance of water for health," he says.

"It is important that the very UFOPA, academics, and other organizations in the region to take ownership of the project, so that the continuity of the project does not depend on us, he become independent", recognizes Pixel. Likeminded is to Paulo Lima, Health & Happiness Project, who believes that the project should be replicated to a greater number of communities and continue its technological development to expand its analytical capacity of the water.

For InfoAmazonia Network still lack enough way to walk, to pass on knowledge and experience to learn. For now, the work continues, perfecting the system and also pointing to the dissemination of information on water quality in the Amazon, leading a transparent information to the community so that their rights are respected, and that their leaders fight for health and also the Amazon.

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Issues 1-3 of The Barnraiser

by warren | almost 5 years ago | 3 | 3

At this year's Barnraising, @patcoyle, @marlokeno, @lombana and I published a daily, one-page newspaper covering each day's events. For our work, and particularly for the final issue (which I was basically not involved in!), we were awarded a "Pullet-zer Prize" by @tonyc (anyone have a picture of this?).

For those of you who didn't get a copy at breakfast, or who weren't able to join us in Cocodrie, Louisiana, here are the first three issues of the Barnraiser, from Friday through Sunday.

Thanks to everyone involved, and please leave your thoughts, feedback, ideas, etc in the comments below!

Issue 1: Friday Nov 19

PDF: barnraiser-2015-11-19.pdf

Issue 2: Saturday Nov 20

PDF: The_Barnraiser--Saturday__Nov_20.pdf

Issue 3: Sunday Nov 21

PDF: The_Barnraiser--Sunday__Nov_21.pdf

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Relevance of Virtual Reality to the World of Grassroots Mapping and Citizen Science?

by ajawitz | almost 5 years ago | 3 | 5

Why I'm interested

I've been hearing about Virtual Reality since the "Lawnmower Man" days of the 1990s, and up until about a week ago my view of it as an expensive toy for rich people remained consistent. Then I belatedly discovered something introduced over a year ago by Google that, if I didnt know better, I could've easily been convinced came straight out of the PublicLab Store! Google Cardboard is such a simple approach to high-end technology that I actually thought it was an April Fools joke when first introduced (I.e Google Cardboard as competitor to Amazon Cardboard piling up in the recycling bin...). Cardboard VR was initially a simple stereoscope through which 3D imagery was produced by a smartphone. By making VR videos, games and map content available as smartphone apps however, the "Cardboard View" is being promoted as common as viewing a window in full screen. After having been sufficiently impressed by the experience myself, I started thinking about new ways such an interface could be put to use.

Back to the Future

The first thought that occurred to me was how VR really is just a return to the old stereoscopic photography used throughout the 19th Century and in the 20th Century for aerial reconnaisance. As a firm believer that field research should always be backed up with equally robust archival work (see notes titled DIY Document Scanning and DIY Time Machine for examples) it occurred to me that VR could be used to extract much more information from historic imagery, especially when many early photos were meant to be viewed in 3D in the first place! While many may be imagining hand tinted portraits of dead Civil War soldiers when they think of sterescopes, 3D rendering was just as popular a method for capturing panoramas. As in this image of SF from 1851- Panoramic_San_Francisco_from_Rincon_Hill_c.1851.jpg

One could certainly understand why it would be impossible to appreciate his panorama of the CIncinatti riverfront from 2 dimensions-


This was especially true in early aerial photography where sophisticated Kite and Balloon Mapping rigs had to be capable of lifting heavy panoramic cameras. This 1860 photograph of downtown Boston, for example, is actually considered to be the first aerial photograph in history! wallaceblack.jpg

The usage of stereoscopic photogrammetry to interpret aerial imagery was developed by the British in WW1 and was famously used in WW2 in Operation Crossbow resulting in literally millions of prints of which only a fraction have been digitized.

With aerial imagery becoming more and more accessible, contemporary usage of stereoscopy in the production of aerial images is becoming a frequent issue of discussion. The USGS for example provides stereo pair images by request. Discussions about stereoscopy and photogrammetry are certainly familiar in PublicLab circles and a Stereo Camera rig has undergone various iterations in the PublicLab community since first introduced 3 years ago. Meanwhile, Mapknitter and OpenDroneMap have been incorporating 3D elements into their respective platforms.

Questions and next steps

Does the democratization of Virtual Reality interfaces have any potential application to the field of citizen science? Would widespread adoption have any affect on current grassroots mapping methods? Would further development of a stereo camera help produce 3D mapping imagery? What new insights could be gained by viewing current aerial imagery in 3D?

Please do feel free to reply in the comments thread or via discussion forum.


The NYPL has a great tool called Stereogranimator which allows users to create 3D viewable content using their collections!

Another reader pointed out an app released by Google encouraging use of VR as a teaching tool-

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The Orb of Salisbury

by cfastie | almost 5 years ago | 3 | 0

Above: The big white buildings are Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury, Vermont. The longer ones house 65,000 laying hens. That is big for a shell egg business in Vermont, but nationwide, farms with one to three million hens are not uncommon.

After a morning of mostly successful aerial photography, the kite flying weather only improved, so after lunch I drove a few miles to the village of Salisbury. It was brighter with a steadier wind from the SSE. There are big hay fields south of the village, so the wind was good for lofting the camera over my neighbors' back yards.

He is saying "No experiments this time, just get some photos."

There were fresh batteries powering the SkyShield controller, a full charge on the PowerShot S100 battery, and an empty 4 GB SD card in the camera. The wind was 10-15 mph so I flew the nine foot Levitation Delta. The SkyShield was running Mode 0, the standard routine for the S100 zoomed all the way out. With a steadier wind, the Saturn V Rig was staying in the same place long enough to complete the 75 second routine capturing 25 photos.

The Saturn V Rig under a nine foot Levitation Delta kite.

The flight lasted an hour and a half. But the photography stopped after an hour when the SD card filled up. Although the same card held 1500 photos on Sunday, this time there was no more space after 1221 photos. For some reason the average jpeg size was larger this time. This time many photos were slightly overexposed (because I set the ISO to 160?) and on Sunday many photos were much underexposed (because the sun went down). So that probably explains the difference. I need to start using an 8 GB card.

Part of a half spherical panorama stitched from 25 photos. Salisbury village is front and center.

When the rig landed, the servo motion was erratic because the batteries were low. Although batteries lasted for almost 2.5 hours last time, this time they did not last 1.5 hours. I don't know how to explain the difference. The 2.5 hours included two sessions, so the batteries rested between them. It was cooler this time than last, but only by 10°F or so. More observations are required.

Above is the full resolution little planet (stereographic) projection that is the lead image of this note. You can also see it at You can use your + and - keys to zoom.

Below is a full resolution half-spherical panorama embedded at (because I still can't upload panoramas to Photosynth). You can also see it at 360Cities.

Village of Salisbury, Vermont
You can hide some of the clutter with a toggle in the upper right. Or click above to view this at

Flight notes:


  • Model: PowerShot S100
  • ISO: 160
  • Shutter speed: 1/800 second (Tv)
  • Focus: manual on infinity
  • Focal length: 24mm (eq.)
  • GPS: on


  • Version: 2.4 (3-switch DIP)
  • Sketch: version 2.08sfm (beta)
  • Mode: Mode 0 (for 24 mm lens, 25 photos/cycle)
  • Customization: The nadir tilt angle was changed from 20 to 11 so the camera was pointed straight down.


  • Kite: nine foot Levitation Delta
  • Wind: From SSE, 10-15 mph
  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Photos taken: 1221

Panorama stitching:

  • Software: Microsoft ICE
  • Post processing: No adjustments were made to any photos before stitching. ICE's "auto complete" feature was used to create extra sky to fill in missing areas. Panoramas exported from ICE were modified in Photoshop including creating sky to make the 360cities panorama fully spherical (360Cities requires that for viewing in their spherical viewer).

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