Aerial Mapping with the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science

Mapping Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal with balloons and canoes.

Mapping Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal with balloons and canoes.

The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science came together following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Facing a lack of clear information about this evolving natural disaster, MIT researcher Jeffrey Yoo Warren organized a loose group of scientists, technologists, and activists to capture aerial images of the spill and map its impact using the tools they had at hand: kites, balloons, and inexpensive cameras. He came to Kickstarter to fund this effort and, in the process, galvanized a global community that wanted to use these techniques.

The Public Lab has gone on to run multiple campaigns aimed at empowering citizen scientists to document and test their local environmental conditions. The latest version of its Balloon Mapping Kit has been refined and improved over the years with user feedback.

“One of the benefits of working in an open source community is that projects all receive attention from a lot of people — people with different skill sets and ideas,” Warren explains. “One of our favorite things to do is just to get a group of people talking about a project!”

Public Lab enlisted citizen scientists to map sites affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, using cameras carried aloft by balloons and kites. (American Public Television)

Public Lab enlisted citizen scientists to map sites affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, using cameras carried aloft by balloons and kites. (American Public Television)

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