Public Lab Wiki documentation


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Balloon & Kite Mapping



Balloon mapping is a low-cost way to take aerial photos using a camera, attached to a balloon, on a spool of string. People have done this from a few hundred feet up all the way to over 4,000 feet in the air.

Activities

Purpose Category Status Author Time Difficulty Replications
Make or buy a balloon mapping kit build complete @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Make a $25 minimal-helium balloon mapping rig - - @natevw - - 0 replications: Try it »
Add GPS logging to a Saturn V Rig build - @cfastie - medium 0 replications: Try it »
Host a balloon mapping workshop - - @liz - - 35 replications: Try it »
PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig build - @mathew 3h easy 1 replications: Try it »
Use a rubber band and knotted string to trigger a camera build complete @mathew 15m easy 0 replications: Try it »
super simple KAP mount with small tripod and velcro strap - - @gonzoearth - - 0 replications: Try it »
Efficiently sort images with Finder & Preview (Mac) - - @mathew - - 0 replications: Try it »
Choose a camera for aerial photography - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Youth Balloon Mapping Workshop Complete! - - @mjain26 - - 0 replications: Try it »
Calculate how much helium you'll need to lift your camera - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »
Choose a way to make your camera take pictures continuously - - @liz - - 0 replications: Try it »

Add an activity  or request an activity

Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.


Questions about balloon mapping:

Title Author Updated Likes
Size of aerial imagery from balloons and kites @Morgan 3 months ago
Has anyone tried a dashboard camera for timelapse or aerial mapping? @warren 7 months ago
Question: Possible to get 3D map from balloon mapping? @bnjmnph over 1 year ago
Question: Do you guys retract the kite / balloon line manually? @madapeti over 2 years ago

Ask a question  or help answer future questions


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

  1. Assemble your own, buy our balloon kit, 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 housingĀ 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

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.


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


balloon-mapping agriculture transportation mining urban-planning proven-in-the-field fracking tool land-use industry method land-change oil-and-gas

list:grassrootsmapping parent:aerial-photography