Category Archives: Tools

Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository

I recently had the pleasure of working on a new project called “Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository”, with Dr. Britta Ricker, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Sara Harrison, a recently-graduated MES student from Waterloo.

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OpenAerialMap Data Browsing Interface

We were inspired by the overall concept of OpenStreetMap, a user-generated map of the world, and wanted to think about how the same concept – volunteered geographic information, could be applied to the explosion of imagery data now being made available through the use of recreational drones. There is an emerging ecosystem of technologies and systems to support not only the creation of micro-level imagery, but to overcome the daunting task of sharing this information. We looked to the OpenAerialMap project as an example of this. Drawing on technology adoption constraints literature, we consider the main challenges to creating this open shared image repository (emphasis on open here – there are a number of private-sector options that do not allow imagery to be shared or re-purposed).

Together, we wrote a peer-reviewed paper that was accepted at the long-running and highly-competitive Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS-50) for 2017. Dr. Ricker was happy to present this on our behalf, and this paper will serve as a jumping off point for further research into how volunteered imagery sources can be both contributed and shared more easily. This paper is available open access through the University of Hawaii at Manoa repository.

New Publication: Evolving Relationships in Community Participatory Geoweb Projects

At long last, a team publication from the GEOIDE grant The Participatory Geoweb has been published in ACME journal. This paper, co-authored by myself, Jon Corbett, Chris Gore, Pamela Robinson, Renee Sieber, and Patrick Allen, takes a critical view of the general enthusiasm for Geoweb projects. We challenge the commonly held notions that the Geoweb is ‘easy’, and highlight several implementation challenges derived from a variety of case studies. For those working with the Geoweb, crowdsourcing, and VGI, I would recommend this as a good overview of the challenges of both developing these types of tools and implementing them within a community context. It’s open-access, so please check it out!

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A Comparison of Traditional and Experiential Approaches to First-Year Geomatics Instruction

I’m currently leading a research project that looks to compare two first-year Geomatics courses (GEOG 181 and the new GEOG 187). Having instructed the prior version of GEOG 181, and now designing and instructing GEOG 187, I’m trying to understand what the impact is of ‘experiential’ teaching methods on student engagement with traditionally tricky concepts, called ‘threshold concepts’. In particular, I’m interested in how students engage with the fundamental geographic concept of ‘scale’. When I talk about scale, I mean how different objects can be represented differently at various scales (local to global), and how geographers and cartographers manipulate and change how objects are visualized to communication information. This work is supported by the University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence LITE (Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement) Full Grant. You can read a nice writeup of the project. This research is currently underway, with data collection from two first year classes complete, and basic analysis commencing soon. I’m hoping to have some general summaries completed by next semester and look forwards to sharing the results with the broader UW community of teaching practice. In the meantime, here are a few photos of GEOG 187 and their ‘experiential’ data collection this past fall.

Grant getting the weather balloon ready to launch (with attached camera to collect budget airphotos).
Grant getting the weather balloon ready to launch (with attached camera to collect budget airphotos).
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View from balloon – note the string tethering the balloon.
Aerial view of a small portion of UW campus.
Aerial view of a small portion of UW campus.
Using Fulcrumapp.com to gather point data using mobile phones
Using Fulcrumapp.com to gather point data using mobile phones
Typical photo of trees for identification.
Typical photo of trees for identification.
Infrared photo of local tree, showing leaf health.
Infrared photo of local tree, showing leaf health.

Geopatial Mobility Lab – Launched with support from CFI and ORF

I’ve recently been awarded funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. I’d like to thank both of these government funding agencies  for their support of a new research and training initiative that I call the ‘Geospatial Mobility Lab’. This effort is also co-sponsored through direct contributions of equipment and services from Esri Canada and Dell Computer.

I am actively recruiting students at the Masters and PhD levels to participate in research using this infrastructure. If you are interested, please read this and get in touch with me.

The Geospatial Mobility Lab in brief:

The widespread adoption of Internet-connected mobile devices has signaled a shift in the way that geographic information is both delivered and gathered. No longer tethered to desks, terminals, and Wi-Fi networks, location-based applications are now a key part of the mobile computing experience, providing a conduit for communication with space and place as a permanent backdrop. This project will develop a first-of-its kind testbed, the Geospatial Mobility Lab, an integrated system of mobile devices and analytic infrastructure, for the systematic evaluation of geospatial information and mobile technology. The Geospatial Mobility Lab will generate benefits for Canada and Canadians in three areas: the generation of direct economic benefits through software and use case developments conducted in partnership with private companies; training benefits through creating employees with marketable skills in software design, deployment, and evaluation; and generate social benefits in understanding the affordances and constraints of mobile device use on individual interactions, communications, and spatial behaviour. Considering the widespread adoption of mobile devices within society and the continued growth of this area of the information technology sector, research findings will impact many of the millions of Canadian citizens who use mobile devices on a daily basis.

See the official funding announcement here.

ParCA Team Travels to Nova Scotia

By Andrea Minano, MSc Student, University of Waterloo

From June 4th to June 18th, 2014, a team from the Partnership for Canada-Caribbean Community Climate Change Adaptation (ParCA) travelled to Shelburne County and the Region of Queens Municipality in Nova Scotia. The team was primarily composed of 4 Master’s candidates from the University of Waterloo: Shandel Brown, Saveena Patara, Maliha Majeed and Andrea Minano. Other associates from ParCA were able to attend for parts of the trip, including Dr. Carolyn Brown (University of Prince Edward Island) and Dr. Ahmed Khan (St. Mary’s University).

Each member of the ParCA team had a series of goals to accomplish during this trip. Saveena and Shandel focused on delivering the results of their research based on in-person interviews to community members and stakeholders in the study site. Their secondary role was to share their experiences and contacts with Maliha and Andrea, who are responsible for conducting follow-up research in Shelburne and Queens. These stakeholders and community members varied widely from institutions, roles, responsibilities, and fields of expertise. Some examples of these contacts included Mike MacLeod (Planner from Liverpool), Dayle Eshelby (Lockeport Councillor), Jen Graham (Coastal Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre), and tourism and fisheries stakeholders across the region. Through these meetings, it was possible to gain a more thorough understanding of the current challenges and uncertainties the communities are currently facing in relation to climate change, aging populations, and economic limitations.

Meeting with Stakeholders in Lockeport, Nova Scotia
Meeting with Stakeholders in Lockeport, Nova Scotia

Andrea and Maliha were able to scope the study site and become more aware of the relevance, importance and need of climate change research in the South Shore. Andrea was also able to test a web-mapping pilot survey for understanding the technological gaps with South Shore participants and gaining an insight to the environmental vulnerabilities across a wide geographic region. Participants were able to complete the survey without help from researchers while contributing information regarding flood and erosion-prone areas in the South Shore. Some of this information offered a greater insight to the environmental challenges in the community and an opportunity for the researcher to visit the indicated sites and take geo-tagged photos. The information gathered through the pilot study is highly valuable as these details will now be taken into account in the future directions of research.

In the final week of the trip, the team left the South Shore to present at the Coastal Zones Canada conference. The presenters and the presentations of the conference offered an insight to research initiatives in coastal environments, many of which were related to climate change in Nova Scotia. Several ParCA members from the University of Prince Edward Island, St. Mary’s University, University of Waterloo and the University of the West Indies made an appearance and discussed a wide variety of topics from the role of governance in climate change adaptation to climate change vulnerability assessments using Geographic Information Systems. The significance of these studies and research initiatives was highlighted by a panel discussion which offered an insight to the importance of sharing research results with communities who were engaged in studies. This, for many of the panelists, was seen as a vital change in research and as a necessary practice in the future.

 

Balloon Mapping Experiment

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It’s no secret – I’ve got a real love for DIY and small-scale data collection methods. Ever since I first heard about the Public Lab of Open Technology and Science (PLOTS, or simply ‘Public Lab’) balloon mapping techniques applied during the Gulf Oil Spill, I really wanted to give it a try. After reading about the experience of some friends and colleagues with balloon mapping in Vancouver, I decided to purchase a balloon kit with the idea of testing it out for a new ‘hands-on’ first-year course in our Geomatics program (GEOG 187: Problem Solving in Geomatics). After a somewhat lengthy ordeal sourcing a helium tank, I got together with my research assistant Grant and some willing helpers from the Faculty of Environment Mapping, Analysis, and Design team (thanks Scott, James, Mike, and Collin – nice writeup here). We waited for a clear, not-so-windy day, and headed off to the Columbia Lake playing fields, on the uWaterloo campus to test the balloon ourselves. Here is the photo-journal description of our morning, with big thanks to Collin from MAD for the awesome photos.

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The balloon – not even close to being filled. And just FYI for others interested in doing this – you don’t need a regulator on the helium tank, though of course we had no idea how much helium we were putting into the balloon.

 

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Closing off the stem of the balloon with a set of zipties (subtitle to this picture is – “Do you have it? Do YOU have it?”)

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Alright, now we are talking! Balloon is all inflated and tethered to the spare tire from my car. Nice group shot, gentlemen!

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With my compact camera (hacked via CHDK to take pictures every 10 seconds) attached to a ‘custom made’ pop bottle crash cage (thanks Grant, for your excellent craftsmanship on this one), and the PLOTS balloon harness clip system, we were ready to go.

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And we’re off!

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Lots of mad flailing about by the camera rig at this point (hopefully it smooths out at altitude?). Around now is probably when the camera slipped, which resulted in a sliver of the harness obscuring the photos.

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James and Mike doing the real hard work here – controlling the balloon while Scott lets out line.

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Mike with some solid linesmanship here.

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We had the balloon up for about 45 minutes, walked the length of a soccer field with it, and brought it down fairly smoothly. Everyone crowding around to take a look at the photos!

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One of the higher altitude photos – showing the centre of Columbia Lake (and the rim of the crash harness pop bottle).

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Another one showing the shoreline

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Oblique shot of Warriors field and Columbia Ave.

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I like this one because it shows the balloon line + us on the ground.

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One of the last photos taken before the camera memory card filled up. Busy people below, reeling in the balloon.

 

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Lastly, here is the georeferenced and mosaicked images all put together using mapknitter.org. You can take a look at the zoomable version here (can’t embed this in a wordpress.com blog, unfortunately).

Overall, a ton of fun on a sunny late spring morning. Other than the obvious adjustments to the camera harness, and perhaps choosing a more interesting location, I’m not sure what we would have done differently. I think this speaks to how well set up the PLOTS balloon kit and instructions were, and also the number of other people who have done similar experiments out there. This gives me quite a bit of confidence that this could actually be done in the context of a first-year class – hopefully I get the chance to put this plan into action!

 

 

 

Why we don’t all need to learn code

Today I’m going to provide a counter point to my last post “Why we should all learn to code”. Is it true that coding is an essential skill for undergraduates, particularly those who want to use geospatial data? To interact with technology in an advanced way (i.e., as more than a user) do you have to ‘speak the language’?

What has gotten me thinking about not needing to code was a great blog by Steve Coast on the issues of “Small Data”. Steve points to the issues that an everyday Joe or Jane user would have with accessing and using some of the online data that they may find useful. His example takes a wishlist of books from Amazon and then cross-references with his local library to find what is available. The (many) steps he describes shows how challenging this type of analysis would be for an average user.

This got me thinking about all the hype about Big Data, the Geoweb, APIs, Web 2.0, and Mashups. The term ‘democratization’ is often thrown around, but this term definitely needs to be unpacked. Are tools and data democratized by simply being available, even if large segments of the population can’t access it? The cost of entry to manipulate online data is just too high for many. And that is a shame, because there are plenty of ways that these technologies can be put to work in daily life. I have recently come across some initiatives that promise to bring advanced data gathering and analysis to the masses. I’ve already discussed Geocommons as a code-free way to make and share geospatial data and maps, and there are plenty of similar options from Google and ESRI.

Two new services have really caught my eye: 140kit and ifttt (if THIS then THAT). These are both simple websites, built with sweet user interfaces, that anyone can use to gather Twitter data (140kit), and automate a variety of cross-platform tasks (ifttt). The ifttt interface in particular makes setting up automated tasks between a variety of services, or ‘channels’  (Twitter, Gmail, WordPress, SMS, Facebook) as easy as…well…following a recipe:

This is an example of two ifttt recipes. The first takes your tweets and archives them to your Google Calendar and the second one takes facebook photos and uploads them to a dropbox folder. Pretty simple stuff, but challenging to do otherwise. There are a lot of options with ifttt and it is worth checking out. Plus, you can create and submit your own recipes. 140kit takes a different approach, in that a user requests for a sample of tweets on a certain topic or geo location, and then similarly requests an analysis on the results. These requests aren’t instantaneous, they need to be handled by a live operator, so there is some lag in the system. Still, this can provide an easy way to tap into the firehose of Twitter. No coding required.

So what is the take home point here? Should you learn programming or not? Services like ifttt, Geocommons, and 140kit are all looking to meet the needs of ‘the rest of us’ – people who don’t know a programming language and don’t want to learn one (or several). This isn’t bad – for most of what people need, these simplified services will do the trick. But they are just that – simplified. Eventually users of these services will likely hit a wall where their advancing needs of analysis or data collection just can’t be met without getting dirty with code. But for many people, these services will be all that they need, plus more. Average users get introduced to some very powerful technology through the miracle of the GUI. If this leads anyone to get interested in how things work under the hood, and then to pick up a programming language, then this is a win for everyone.