Grassroots Mapping is a series of participatory mapping projects involving communities in cartographic dispute. Seeking to invert the traditional power structure of cartography, the grassroots mappers used helium balloons and kites to loft their own “community satellites” made with inexpensive digital cameras.

This site has been merged into Public Lab

At Public Lab, we've grown the Grassroots Mapping community into a broader effort to enable communities to understand and respond to environmental threats with DIY techniques.

Read more and join us »

Solar hot air balloon tests in Tbilisi, Georgia

July 24th, 2010 by Jeffrey Warren

Brief and very low-altitude flight...

A group of tech enthusiasts and bloggers in Tbilisi Georgia joined me and Sopho from OpenMapsCaucasus to prototype some solar hot air balloons for use in balloon mapping. Helium in Georgia is exorbitantly expensive – $700 for a 250-cubic foot tank, which would cost $125 in the US or $250 in the West Bank (and would last for up to 8 flights). To try to get around the helium cost issue, we’re trying a variety of other means to get cameras up in the air.

This flight wasn’t successful – we reached only about 10 meters – but perhaps with darker plastic, or in lower winds, this could be a viable replacement for helium.

Direct sunlight, finally

Largest balloon map so far in Mestia, Georgia

July 16th, 2010 by Jeffrey Warren

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with JumpStart International’s project, OpenMapsCaucasus in Georgia, teaching balloon-mapping workshops. With OMC’s Austin Cowley, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Svaneti in the northwest of Georgia, where we collaborated with local OMC staff and a group of enterprising school kids to map the entire city of Mestia:

A grassroots map of Mestia, Georgia, in Cartagen Knitter

The map, 5.5 kilometers from end to end, is the largest area ever mapped using these techniques, and was completed in less than 3 days, with a 6-foot helium balloon flying up to 1.4 kilometers above the ground. Below, you can see the flight paths of our first 3 launches, recorded with a lightweight GPS which we attached to the balloon:

1400 meter balloon flights in Mestia

The trip is the first of a series of mapping expeditions and workshops I’ll be teaching with OMC staff across the country, and the imagery will be used to improve the public domain map that OMC is developing.

Reeling in 4500 ft of string with a bicycle... three times today