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.
As we state in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, oftentimes, technological advancement and adoption proceeds at a faster pace than regulations accompanying it. A perfect example is what is probably the hottest technology in remote sensing right now, and that is UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Internet is becoming rapidly filled with stories and videos of footage from UAVs deployed by aerial survey companies, but even more commonly, operated by the general public. For example, this storymap contains footage of UAV imagery flown over a rocket launch, a cruise ship, and more.
While I as a geographer are fascinated by these images and videos, I am at the same time sensitive to the myriad of privacy and safety issues raised by the operation of UAVs. We are beginning to see laws passed to regulate the operation of UAVs on certain lands, such as the recent policy directive against flying these in national parks in the USA.
Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said that “We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care. However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.” Some parks had already initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns. For example, earlier this year, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset were interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.
The policy memorandum directs park superintendents to take a number of steps to exclude unmanned aircraft from national parks. The steps include drafting a written justification for the action, ensuring compliance with applicable laws, and providing public notice of the action. The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.
The policy memorandum is a temporary measure, and it seems like a wise move. Jarvis said the next step will be to propose a Servicewide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft. That process can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment. The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.
Near the Esri office in Colorado a month ago, I witnessed my first UAV flight where I did not know who was operating the vehicle. I’m sure we will look back in years to come and realize that we in 2014 were at the dawn of a technology that will no doubt transform GIS and our everyday lives. I anticipate sensors soon capable of capturing imagery in a wide variety of wavelengths, as well as atmospheric and other types of sensors that will further hasten the era of big data. I am hopeful that we will chart a prudent course through the advent of UAVs, taking advantage of the innumerable benefits that UAVs can offer the GIS industry and also society as a whole.
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.