Future Of Real-Time: Instant Mapping

Future Of Real-Time: Instant Mapping

A growing number of open source tools and lo-fi solutions offer local communities the ability to rapidly generate maps and provide real-time instructions for navigating uncharted or changing landscapes.

Dan Gould
  • 2 february 2011

Instant mapping

Maps are a universal tool that have the ability to convey significant quantities of information, often transcending language and cultural barriers. This intuitive nature has made maps the medium of preference for creating a shared visual experience. A growing number of open source tools and lo-fi solutions offer local communities the ability to rapidly generate maps and provide real-time instructions for navigating uncharted or changing landscapes. This type of information becomes invaluable for individuals during times of crisis as they try to gain insights into their own communities.


  • Maps contain a universal language. They are easily understood by people of all languages and literacy levels.
  • Open and accessible tools help ensure that maps remain a relevant and useful resource for locals and visitors alike by enabling flexible solutions that can easily evolve alongside the changing face of any region.
  • Collaborative mapping initiatives encourage citizens to learn more about their surroundings and get involved with their local communities through the exploration of unfamiliar neighborhoods and environments.
  • Simple mapping systems can serve as valuable navigation tools for areas without established roadways or infrastructure.

Lo-fi Solution For Aerial Mapping

Grassroots Mapping is a series of participatory mapping projects focused on communities involved in land disputes. Initiated by the MIT Media Lab‘s Center for Future Civic Media, the project utilizes balloons, kites, and other simple and inexpensive tools to produce aerial imagery, inverting the traditional power structure of cartography.

The resulting images are geotagged and stitched into maps which are 100x higher resolution that those offered by Google and available at an extremely low cost. These maps have been used to support residents’ claims to land title and most recently to document the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in order to assess the situation and assist with the response. WWW.GRASSROOTSMAPPING.ORG

Remote Control Airplane Creates Local Maps

The Swinglet CAM is a safe and easy-to-use flying camera that takes high-resolution pictures automatically—plus it can take off, fly and land all on its own. The drone can be programmed to follow a pre-determined flight path based on a maximum of 20 GPS coordinates with an operational range of up to 12.5 miles.

With simple drag & drop functions, it is possible to pre-program—as well as update during the flight—the position, altitude and behavior of the unmanned drone. In addition to mapping, potential applications include traffic updating, security, crop and species monitoring. WWW.SENSEFLY.COM

Open Source Cartography

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative project to create a freely editable map of the world. The initial map data was built from scratch by volunteers performing systematic ground surveys using a handheld GPS unit and a notebook, digital camera,
or a voice recorder. More recently, the availability of aerial photography and other data from commercial and government sources has greatly increased both the speed and accuracy of this work. When large data sets are available, a technical team will manage the conversion and importing of the data. WWW.OPENSTREETMAP.ORG

Community-Based Mapping Project

Tendermaps is an experiment in informal, community-based cartography where people define their neighborhood by creating hand-drawn maps. Community members are handed blank maps and asked to define the neighborhood by marking up the maps with colored markers.

They are encouraged to define the region with three broad factors in mind: the paths they take, the things they love, and the location of their community. WWW.TENDERMAPS.COM

Online Marketplace For Geo-Data

SimpleGeo is a service that aims to help developers index, interpret, and consume location data. Described as “iTunes for geodata,” the Colorado based start-up plans to create a wide sampling of geographic datasets and technologies that developers can access.

The goal is to give developers the tools to quickly build location services without worrying about having the money to license from a large database or having to quickly scale to create their own. WWW.SIMPLEGEO.COM

Picture-Based Navigation

BreadCrumbz is a mobile navigation application that creates directional routes on the fly. Users create new routes by taking geotagged pictures as they travel to visually mark their path. Images can be tagged and annotated with arrows or other signs to provide additional context.

The result is a personalized, picture-based map that users can share with others. WWW.BCRUMBZ.COM


Add your thoughts and ideas on Twitter and other social media networks using #InstantMapping

Watch the PSFK team present the report in New York in February on Feb 10 at Open UN – Engagement in the age of real-time and on Feb 18 at PSFK SALON at Soho House NY.

For your free download of this report please visit

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