(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Glyn Moody

Filed Under:
drones, maps, openness


Suitcase-Sized Drones Extend And Deepen OpenStreetMap's Coverage

from the up,-up,-and-away dept

An increasing number of online services use location information. This places suppliers like Google, with its Google Maps, in a strong position, since creating such geodata for entire countries -- or the world -- is something that can only be undertaken by large, well-funded companies. At least, that was true in the past, but increasingly the free, crowd-sourced alternative, OpenStreetMap, is gaining both contributors and commercial users:

Created by Steve Coast in the UK in 2004, it was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and preponderance of proprietary map data in the UK and elsewhere. Since then, it has grown to over 1 million registered users, who can collect data using GPS devices, aerial photography, and other free sources. These crowdsourced data are then made available under the Open Database License. The site is supported by the OpenStreetMap Foundation, a non-profit organization registered in England.

Rather than the map itself, the data generated by the OpenStreetMap project are considered its primary output. These data are then available for use in both traditional applications, like their usage by Craigslist, Geocaching, MapQuest Open, JMP statistical software, and Foursquare to replace Google Maps, and more unusual roles, like replacing default data included with GPS receivers. These data have been favorably compared with proprietary datasources, though data quality varies worldwide.
As the Wikipedia article quoted above goes on to note, many of the earliest contributors to OpenStreetMap were cyclists, who were keen to chart cycle-routes and navigable trails. Charting remote areas that don't have navigable trails is much harder, which is one reason why the data quality around the world is variable. Low-cost drones seem to have great potential in this area, as this post on MapBox explains:
Last weekend we captured 100 acres of aerial imagery at 4cm [1.6"] resolution. It took less than an hour to fly, and it was easy to publish the imagery on the web using TileMill and then trace in OpenStreetMap. Autonomous flying platforms like Sensefly's eBee paired up with a nimble software stack are changing aerial mapping. Drones like the eBee can cheaply and accurately photograph medium-sized areas, and then the imagery can be made immediately available to everyone.
eBee is a drone specifically designed for aerial photography, with the added benefit that it fits in a suitcase and can be launched by hand. It's easy to imagine even smaller, cheaper and more accurate models appearing in the future, which will allow OpenStreetMap to broaden and refine its coverage yet further. Combined with its zero price, that is likely to make OpenStreetMap's data even more attractive both to existing services and to startups looking to launch new ones based around location.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2013 @ 10:32pm

    Sponsored by the NSA & Friends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2013 @ 11:52pm

    i suppose the next thing we'll read is how these 'suitcase sized drones' have dropped 'suitable size bombs' and made no through roads, through roads now!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2013 @ 1:28am

    that works fine in the U.K.

    BUT the FAA has already disallowed commercial use of drones in the U.S. so unless its a bunch of private citizens that have purchased or rented their own this is not going to do well in the states, which is kind of sad, oh well at least the rest of the world can get awesome 2 inch resolution aerials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Richard (profile), Nov 27th, 2013 @ 1:59am

    Re: that works fine in the U.K.

    CAA also require special licensing for these devices - so not so good here either.

    As far as I am aware both autonomous operation and "aerial work" are not allowed unless you have asked for special permission from the CAA.

    Almost certainly you will need to have a competent RC pilot with a transmitter capable of taking control of the a/c in visual range for the whole flight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Just Sayin', Nov 27th, 2013 @ 2:52am

    Liability Issues

    You have to think that there are all sorts of liability issues in allowing this data to be created by crowd sourcing. A few malicious notes and people are driving into open quarry pits and into lakes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    Re: Liability Issues

    Sounds like something that could be fixed with a three sentence disclaimer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Nov 27th, 2013 @ 11:15am

    Re: Liability Issues

    This may be a little harsh, but I can't help but think anyone stupid enough to drive into a clearly visible hazard, just because their GPS told them it was safe, was probably going to Darwin Award themselves at some point anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.