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Grassroots Science: Balloon Mapping with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science

Tuesday 14th February at the 2nd London Citizen Cyberscience Summit. The live blog entries for the summit can be found at the Extreme Citizen Science blog.

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) is a community which develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation. By democratizing inexpensive and accessible “Do-It-Yourself” techniques, Public Laboratory creates a collaborative network of practitioners who actively re-imagine the human relationship with the environment.

“Balloon mapping is sending a camera up on a balloon, snapping photos, and stitching them into a map.”  A view from above gives you a big picture perspective. Balloon mapping can not only help you get an overview of an area of interest with an air-photo but give you a tool to identify features, collect information and evidence for a citizen science project in environmental protection, social activism, journalism.

Once you have taken the photos, you can upload them to MapKnitter to create maps of the area photographed. These maps can be used as evidence to advocate for change or to prove facts. In fact, Shannon and Sara who started Public Laboratories came up with the idea in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Media was not reporting the true extent of the damage. They took it in their own hands to show the world was was really happening, taking air-photos of the shoreline in the Gulf of Mexico and mapping the extent of the spill over time. Media report sometimes misrepresents number of participants in protests. People have taken balloon mapping as a tool to follow protests and take photos that represent the facts.

On February 14 we had a hands on opportunity to assemble a “balloon sensor”. Our balloon mapping kit included a very large balloon, a helium tank, string, a camera, tape, a plastic bottle (to protect and stabilize the camera), a rubber band and a q-tip (to hold the shooting button on). After our step by step instruction, we let our balloon go up in the air to take air photos.

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One thought on “Grassroots Science: Balloon Mapping with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science

  1. Like the Cambodian space program:

    I actually though of doing this when I was living in Switzerland, but I was sure the camera would fall either in lake, and sink, in a mountain I wouldn’t be able to climb, or in someone else’s property that I can’t trespass.

    Posted by Pablo | February 26, 2012, 02:48

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