Useful applications of amateur aerial imaging data

I'm starting to see DIY aerial photography showing up more and more often in day to day life. Here are two examples from this week:

The above image, taken from a tethered blimp, is from this BoingBoing report: "Activist MIT cartographers aid Peruvian squatters":

"This MIT Media Lab project worked with activists on Friday to make maps with a community of Shipibo who've taken up residence on the bank of the river Rimac in downtown Lima - a city of 11 million people. Using only helium balloons and a cheap camera, the team, part of the Center for Future Civic Media, took pictures of the extralegal settlement from ~500 feet up. The images were rectified and the resulting map may help the Shipibo in their legal battle to gain deeds to the land. is a project which supports communities in cartographic dispute by creating low-cost mapping tools."

Meanwhile, this guy got his kite photos actually into the official Google Earth/Maps database, which is impressive indeed:

Needless to say, a UAV could have done either of these. The applications of "anytime, anywhere access to sky" are limitless!

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Comment by automatik on January 23, 2010 at 10:44pm
Interesting...The guy who got images into Google Earth, apparently used GonzoEarth to stitch and process images. If you look at the site brochure of GonzoEarth it states that it could (does?) use UAV and RC plane systems to take images ( among other methods). Here is the link to it. And apparently it's a paid service....

Comment by Gary Mortimer on January 24, 2010 at 2:11am
Ah PicEarth, theres something from back in the day ;-)

Comment by Gary Mortimer on January 24, 2010 at 2:13am
I forsee lots of image rendering services popping up, I love getting the images, but hate sorting them out!! If there was a simple accurate reliable service Mike and I would probably use it, we have just bought some one in to help in fact, with what is donkey work!!

Comment by Graham Dyer on January 24, 2010 at 2:29am
In Jan 2008 I took some pictures for a company here of an informal settlement, it was however not from a UAV but just a normal electric RC plane with a digital camera. A UAV which I didn't have at the time would've provided better accuracy, more consistent heights and repeatability as keeping the plane level was a big problem as well as placing the plane accurately over the area.

Comment by Rory Paul on January 24, 2010 at 6:36pm
story of my life...25 minute flight...3 days stitching and tweaking images...

@Graham bet you its four times the size now...I remember when Diepsloot was three shacks..
Comment by Mike on January 25, 2010 at 3:31am
Gary will get back to you on that as we are in the process of setting up such a service with top notch software that we are using and want to maximise its usage. PM with an idea of the type of data you are producing and output you require.

Comment by DougB on January 25, 2010 at 10:04am

"3 days stitching and tweaking images..." Welcome to the world of "aerial photography". I do this kind of work for a living and, yes, its and hour of actual photography then several days on the computer. Only about 5% of my time is spent actually doing the photography. Then you have the problem as I had last week where I had a rush job and right before I was ready to write the CD the server went down, we've spent three days to get it back and this morning I get the "privilege" of reinstalling all the programs now and if I'm lucky I can write the CD tomorrow morning, 5 days later.

Just living the Dream

Comment by Gary Mortimer on January 25, 2010 at 10:13am
We work on a 3 to 1 ratio, one day shooting three days fiddling if you don't add that into the cost, you've had it!
Comment by DougB on January 25, 2010 at 10:24am
Absolutely correct, and if someone is just starting out plan on double or triple the time until you you get things figured out, which can take as long as six month or more.
Comment by Stewart Long on January 25, 2010 at 2:21pm
hello all, Pict'Earth in the US was all about software and hardware tools for aerial imagery. Today Pict'Earth is not active in the US, for Europe, and I have moved on to The focus is now services for acquiring and processing aerial image maps.

I processed the kite imagery from above, great for Frank Taylor from the geblog to get images from this kite setup that he just received with one of his sponsors. I had to let him know that it took me a few failures with the RC plane to get my first aerial images. He is on this great trip around the globe in his catamaran right now, and you can read about it on his site. We just did another small kite image map:

To bring the discussion back to drones, I think "anytime, anywhere access to sky" is coming fast. While it does take a person to create seamless image mosaic that minimizes distortion and makes judgments about how to represent things for for the final map, the viewing of raw data is increasingly powerful.
If you take images and gps data and plot it out with software in real time it is entirely useful as far as communicating what the site and situation of a place is as a map would. Image sensors, computer processing, and network bandwidth will all contribute to our future world on live.


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