Google now Including Balloon Mapping for MapsBack when the oil spill happened, there wasn’t a good way to map the damage done. A small group of activists decided to create a simple balloon rig for taking low-level aerial photos of the damage. Their goal was to create a composite photo of the damage.
Since then, The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science has grown its project. They started a Kickstarter project and got a fair bit of funding. Now there are independent cells of mappers taking photos of cities all around the world, creating a map of high resolution, low altitude maps.
Now Google is including their photos into Google Earth.
The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science sells a kit for the DIY balloon mapping--the reason that they ran the Kickstarter campaign in the first place--so anyone interested in mapping their city can now take part. They also provide tools for stitching images together into a whole and then providing geolocation information, which is how Google knows where to lay the images.
For Google, this is a godsend. Bing Maps has had a bird’s eye view mode for years, using photos taken from low-flying planes. Google has been relying on satellite photography, which while great, can be grainy and low resolution.
But the relationship is actually complementary. With Google now condoning the project, we will likely see more efforts put into grassroots balloon mapping. And most of those maps will end up in the public domain, where others can do what they will with the data. Imagine, for example, an Open Street Map with high resolution photo data. That would be a true competitor to Google Maps, and would keep Google honest.
If you want to try your hand at balloon mapping, you can buy yourself a kit from the project’s site. It is an interesting project worth getting involved in.