Satellite maps have never been better

BullockIt’s hard not to love maps. They give us valuable information and context about our world; they show us our community, the places we’ve been, and the places we want to go. Maps are a universal language. No matter your age, what language you speak, or where you live, we can all look at a map and understand and connect with each other. I grew up in the days of paper maps, and to this day I still love physical maps!

Try this as a social experiment: open a paper map in a social setting and observe the reaction as people read, understand, and converse about the map. Despite all of the great apps, devices, and connected services, there is still a certain gravitas about a physical map. We were all reminded of their importance in Nepal after the devastating earthquake. In a situation where communications are limited, connectivity disrupted, and mobile phones were dead, these paper maps — derived from various types of digital information — actually helped to save lives and change the outcome of the humanitarian response.

For those who know DigitalGlobe, we’re usually known as the “satellite nerds.” While that is mostly true, I have a different perspective: I see our satellites as valuable sensors that feed us information to create better maps. By better, I mean more accurate, more detailed, more up to date, and better equipped to solve important problems. Most imagery from any earth observing satellite is beautiful, but it’s the information embedded in those images that is really exciting.

For the past several years, imagery and information derived from DigitalGlobe satellites have been used to help build many of the maps we all use every day. Within the OpenStreetMap community, thousands of volunteers are using imagery from DigitalGlobe every day. There are many avenues by which imagery is provisioned for these volunteers, whether it is through Bing Maps, Mapbox Satellite, Mapgive, or directly from DigitalGlobe. I’m assuming that most volunteers don’t necessarily pay attention to that, as long as they have their imagery. In a previous State of the Map talk, I described the availability of imagery similar to that of electricity or Wi-Fi; we often take it for granted, and when it’s not available, our ability to do work is severely disrupted. Similar to infrastructure, accurate and timely imagery requires an extraordinary amount of planning, engineering, development, and effort to make sure it meets our needs. At DigitalGlobe, we’re taking mapping to the next level by harnessing the best of technology and exposing massive amounts of data for crowds of volunteers to analyze.

At State of the Map US this weekend in New York City, we’ll have several of our team members available to discuss this further, along with any questions you might have about imagery. In addition to being a State of the Map sponsor, DigitalGlobe is seeking to deepen our relationship with OpenStreetMap users and the community. If you’ll be at State of the Map US, look for my colleagues Andrew, Josh, James, Tina, Josh and tell them your mapping story! We will also have several presentations you can attend on Sunday, June 7:

  • Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, in the Sponsor Meeting Room Luke Barrington will discuss how human settlements can be mapped from space.
  • Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, in the Sponsor Meeting RoomTaner Kodanaz will share how DigitalGlobe’s Seeing a better world™ is committed to affecting outcomes in some of the world’s most pressing global development areas, including food and nutrition security, infrastructure development, human rights, and sustainability.
  • Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, in Room CR 3 Todd Bacastow will give a lightning talk on how geospatial information and applications helped to track and contain the Ebola breakout in West Africa.

United Nations OSMIn addition, DigitalGlobe will be supporting Missing Maps’ US Hack Day Mapathon with satellite imagery of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, licensed for OpenStreetMap usage. Dar es Salaam has experienced a rash of deadly flash floods in recent months, and the map data generated by this event will be used to develop an early warning system to alert residents of future flooding. The Mapathon will be held on Monday, June 8, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., at New York University’s Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life.

Finally, in order to engage the next generation of mappers, DigitalGlobe partnered with the Bronx High School of Science for our first-ever “Bright Ideas” contest. This program gave Bronx High School of Science students the opportunity to conceive new geospatial use cases that leverage better maps to solve big problems. I had the opportunity to meet with these students recently and was very impressed with their ideas and their grasp of global-scale issues. DigitalGlobe will be hosting the students with the best use cases at this weekend’s State of the Map conference – stop by our booth and say hi!

Kevin Bullock is director of product management at DigitalGlobe.