Public Lab Wiki documentation

Grants: MIT 100k

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Public Laboratory: kits and educational services for DIY mapping -


“a simple yet radical idea: for less than $100 you can generate your own high-resolution satellite imagery” -- Alan Burdick, National Resources Defense Council

We help people make their own high-resolution “satellite” maps by attaching digital cameras to balloons and kites. Our active online community at and includes hundreds of Do-It-Yourself mappers who have adopted our tools and techniques to monitor environmental crises, humanitarian disasters, land rights disputes, and even local sustainable agriculture. We now seek to offer kits for students, activists, architects, farmers, humanitarian organizations, and other would-be mappers to get started making, interpreting, and publishing aerial imagery.


The widespread availability of good satellite imagery holds great promise for environmental, disaster response, and even urban planning -- but the high costs associated with producing such data puts the greatest advantages beyond the reach of most users. Tasking fresh satellite imagery and capturing new imagery frequently -- key to monitoring changes in the environment over time, such as during a disaster -- are simply out of the question, even for many large organizations. As up-to-date imagery plays a larger role in crisis response, limited access to new imagery has stalled efforts to perform damage assessment, or to monitor unfolding crises.


By enabling even the smallest organizations to produce and publish their own aerial imagery, we open up the power of remote sensing and interpretation to a much broader public. Over the past year, we have worked to build an open community of DIY mappers, who use our website to share experiences, data, and advice. We are continuing to develop this body of participants along the lines of the Arduino and Maker communities -- based around sharing user-generated content about the balloon mapping platform.

Our organization seeks to support this growing community, by providing educational and training services, and further technological development of the mapping platform, as well as online resources such as our web-based mapping analysis suite, video tutorials, and a forum for users to post and discuss their work.


From activist groups to community foundations, a wide variety of smaller organizations have found uses for on-demand mapping tools, and have proven our tools’ utility. We are also in talks with larger organizations such as the World Bank and the Red Cross to provide training to their staff and partner organizations. By offering prepackaged instructional materials and kits, we seek to expand our program and scale to provide tools and educational services to a much larger public.

A second and perhaps much larger market for such kits and educational programs is education -- our mapping tools have already been adopted by a variety of educators, from elementary and after-school programs to university-level courses on geographic information systems, urban design, and environmental studies. Our printed and online curricular materials are helping students become proficient in making, interpreting, and publishing map data, and our online map analysis suite can take the place of more expensive proprietary software.


  • Building our educational programs through workshops, and documenting the shared techniques of the grassroots mapping community. Further developing public workshops, our growing online community, and the map-making curricular materials.
  • Developing a cloud-based online map archive for our users to post the large amounts of mapping data they produce. For example, activists in the Gulf of Mexico have produced tens of thousands of images, and hundreds of gigabytes of data.
  • Further development of the mapmaking techniques and transferability of the methodologies, and the general concept of public map-making in general and its place in society.
  • Refining our online map analysis tools. The tools are evolving increased precision, robustness, and flexibility for new uses and environments.


Community Coordinator, project oversight and management - Shannon Dosemagen Product Engineer, platform development and distribution - Jeffrey Warren Mapping Lead, map processing and publishing - Stewart Long Educational Outreach & Planning - Sara Wylie