Tag Archives: balloon

Capturing Balloon Airphotos with Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) Geotech Magnet Program

We are fortunate here in Waterloo Region to have access to a unique high school-level program focused on geospatial technologies. The Waterloo Region District School Board offers a Geotechnology magnet program at Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) high school. This program attracts students from all over the region, who come to WCI to participate in advanced instruction in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and geospatial analysis. Students from this program learn in a dedicated computer lab, equipped with industry leading ArcGIS software from Esri. This is an exceptional program, providing a real educational advantage to students at the high school level who are interested in geospatial technologies.

As part of our high school outreach program in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management, I went and worked with the current WCI Geotech class to setup data collection using a digital camera attached to a helium weather balloon provided by the Public Lab, a non-profit organization supporting hardware development for data collection.

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Preparing the balloon rigging for launch. Photo courtesy of Mark Menhennet, WCI.

After an introduction session in the classroom, we took the balloon and camera out to the WCI field for a morning flight. Students handled the balloon while it took images of the playing fields and nearby developments along Columbia Street.

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Camera crash guard rig. Photo courtesy of Mark Menhennet, WCI. 
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Hazel and Columbia area of Waterloo

 

The balloon reached a max height of approximately 600 feet before the students hauled it back in.

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Hauling in the balloon.

In their afternoon class, students used the open source web platform MapKnitter, to stretch and align the various photos from the balloon to create a composite image.

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Composite image made with MapKnitter

 

This hands-on experience for students showed how easy it can be to collect and assemble your own amateur airphotos. Typically we think of this type of data collection as something that only professional geospatial companies or governments can do. However, with the right type of tools, this custom data collection and mapping is open to nearly anyone with an interest. Experiencing first-hand this type of data collection can show high school students just one of the many applications of geospatial technology, and the potential of a career in geospatial technology. Given the success of this first collaboration with the WCI Geotech Magnet Program, I’m looking forward to working together to expand this student experience in the future!

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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!