Public Lab Wiki documentation


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Balloon & Kite Mapping



Rubber band and PET bottle camera rig

by mathew about 2 hours ago | 0 | 9 | 0

This activity replaces the PET Bottle Rig wiki page. The P...

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PET bottle camera rig activity

by mathew about 2 hours ago | 0 | 8 | 0

This activity replaces the PET Bottle Rig wiki page. The...

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Build a juice bottle-based rig to carry two cameras

by warren about 5 hours ago | 0 | 19 | 0

This (old) guide shows how to make a protective case large enough for [two synchronized cameras](...

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Maps without borders: Stories of civic science in action

by Cindy_ExCites 19 days ago | 0 | 101 | 2

This storytelling exhibition showcases powerful aerial maps created by citizens using [kites, bal...

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Beaufort Wind Scale Comic, 1906

by mathew 27 days ago | 3 | 133 | 2

The [Beaufort Scale][1] is a means of measuring wind speed by visual inspection of indirect facto...

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Adding GPS logging to a kite or balloon aerial photography rig

by cfastie about 1 month ago | 0 | 64 | 2

_Above: A GPS board mounted on a Saturn V Rig. The module is powered by the existing battery on t...

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Public Lab Community Newsletter: December 2016

by klie 2 months ago | 0 | 349 | 3

We've relaunched the newsletter and will be sending it out monthly, in addition to sharing it on...

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How useful is a map?

by clauds 2 months ago | 0 | 273 | 2

As we finish preparing the map of Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp that we are producing from our ba...

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More research on "balloon-mapping" »


Title Last edited Edits Likes
KAPtery Aerial Rigs 12 days ago by cfastie 3 15
Kite making 3 months ago by warren 5 2
Reconfigurable Rig 6 months ago by mathew 6 0
Balloon Mapping Guide 8 months ago by abdul 6 6
Aerial Balloon Mapping 8 months ago by abdul 29 8
NDVI from the PLOTS near infrared camera about 1 year ago by cfastie 35 2
Pendulum Rig Kit Documentation about 1 year ago by tonyc 7 2
Aerial Imagery in the Public Domain about 1 year ago by eustatic 6 11
How to Map over 1 year ago by stevie 13 10
Revealing the Invisible in Spain almost 2 years ago by MollyDanielsson 2 7
Protest Mapping by Oscar Brett almost 2 years ago by MollyDanielsson 6 1
Vadi Asbestonim about 2 years ago by asbest 27 7
GLAM Two-Tether Balloon Method: navigating urban waterways about 2 years ago by MollyDanielsson 3 6
Sky Camera over 2 years ago by mercyorangi 12 14
Youth Balloon Mapping Workshop Curriculum over 2 years ago by warren 3 8
Mapping Curriculum: High Altitude Mapping almost 3 years ago by gonzoearth 8 0
Helium about 3 years ago by warren 9 81
Kingsland Park over 3 years ago by gdotoli 1 0
Vermont Public Lab Organizing: Toxics Action Center and Public Lab! over 3 years ago by cfastie 10 1
Balloon Mapping Media almost 4 years ago by warren 4 1
3d Mapping almost 4 years ago by warren 3 0
North Shore, Mass, Mapping Meetup: Pavilion Beach, Ipswich -- April 6, 2013 almost 4 years ago by wward1400 18 0
Tidmarsh Farms meetup over 4 years ago by pablo 18 0
State of the Map, my slides & notes over 4 years ago by mathew 1 0
Canon A495 Tips over 4 years ago by cfastie 14 12
Bamboo/tyvek kite and solar balloon construction workshop over 4 years ago by liz 32 0
dual camera trigger almost 5 years ago by mathew 4 1
GrassrootsMappingBelizeMarch5 almost 5 years ago by warren 2 2
GrassrootsMappingBelizeFeb25 almost 5 years ago by warren 2 3
GrassrootsMappingBelizeFeb21 almost 5 years ago by warren 2 3

How Can I Do This?

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 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


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

list:grassrootsmapping tabbed:notes tabbed:wikis parent:aerial-photography