Just over a year ago we wrote about an OpenStreetMap project to support humanitarian aid with open UAV imagery following the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in Nov 2013. Although there were some issues in coordinating the data collection, the benefits of having access to a managed resource of openly accessible aerial imagery were obvious.
One year on and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team (HOT) have established the OpenAerialMap (OAM) project, to host and share aerial imagery from a variety of sources including ‘traditional and nano satellites, manned and unmanned aircraft, mapping drones, balloons and kites‘. The project will not only provide access to the imagery but it will also make the management software available to download, to help support local access to the imagery.
Although the project is still in the early stages, one of the first objectives is to establish an imagery catalog to facilitate searches and display. One of the major problems in the Philippines was identifying which individual or agency collected the imagery the humanitarian relief teams needed access to. The next priority will be to create the map engine, or the OAM server, to make the imagery available as a web service.
Reported in the Guardian newspaper today are plans to map the world’s forgotten places. As the report discusses a surprisingly large number of the world’s cities in some of the poorest countries are unmapped. While local agencies can muddle along using photocopies or out of date and low resolution aerial images for day to day activities, the problems associated with the lack of accurate and current maps are exacerbated during times of conflict or natural disaster. Without access to reliable digital maps, local emergency response teams and humanitarian agencies often lack the necessary spatial data, such as accurate road network information, that they rely on to provide aid and help reconstruct local communities.
One solution to the problem is the soon to be launched Missing Maps Project, a collaborative project involving among others Médecins Sans Frontières, the American and British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. The plan is quite simple – create digital maps for every settlement on Earth as part of what is described as ‘ nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities‘. Building on the volunteer crowd sourcing data capture techniques developed by OpenStreetMap, the project will make satellite imagery available via the OpenStreetMap mapping interface.
Volunteers can then log in from anywhere in the world and start digitising road and river networks, building outlines and other infrastructure, in effect creating basic but current digital maps of the cities. Local volunteers then add street and building names and the completed maps are posted back to the Missing Maps head office in London. With end-to-end crowd sourcing and the probably largest team of volunteer mappers ever mobilised, the project aims to map the world’s poorest urban areas within two years and provide a global open access and open source dataset to support local communities.
Last year we wrote about the imminent influx of high resolution imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and the great potential this could offer those agencies responding to emergency situations where the effective provision of humanitarian aid relies heavily on access to current, accurate and readily available map data.
When Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), reportedly the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, struck the Philippines on the 8th of November 2013 it caused catastrophic destruction and loss of life. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (H.O.T) activated Project Haiyan to provide geographic base data for the affected areas.
However as Kate Chapman reported in a project update last month, although a large number of UAVs had been used to collect imagery immediately after the typhoon struck, much of the mapping activity was uncoordinated, resulting in fragmented data sources that were unavailable to the aid agencies. Although UAV imagery can provide much higher resolution data (5-10cm) than is currently available from satellite imagery sources (0.5m), if the data can’t be accessed when required, the relevant agencies don’t know what’s available and from whom or the licensing arrangements prohibit open access to the data, then the transient opportunities to put the data to good use are lost.
Given the increasing miniaturisation, reduced costs and availability of these devices, a register of publicly available UAV data sources, a crowdsourced OpenUAVImagery initiative or the “OpenReconstruction/Open Drone” platform described by the H.O.T. would seem to be the next step towards making the most of this data resource.