Tag Archives: geography

Flying our drone [pictures, video]

Yesterday Ate Poorthuis and I had some practice in flying our new drone or quadcopter. This was the first time for me, although Ate had had some previous practice, and has been working on getting the drone to a flight operational status.

When it arrived, it came mostly pre-assembled.

Unfortunately you can’t just lift it out of the box and flip the “on” switch. Besides a few technical hitches (the landing legs were delayed in shipping, the battery recharger had to be reordered, etc) there was the question of figuring out how it works. This I left to the techno-savvy Ate, which he did admirably. He can go into the details of the process, hopefully as a research note for PLOTS.

Around lunchtime we started to put it together and hook everything up. Ate gave me a short demo of the flight data you can receive form the unit while it’s in flight, although we didn’t try this part during the flight testing (there are already too many joysticks and switches on the remote controller for the novice to worry about!).

With the RC unit:

See what I mean? The left joystick controls throttle and arms/disarms the rotors, and the right one the pitch and yaw.

There’s quite a lot of instrumentation on board, including GPS, sonar, but not as yet a camera as we are still putting in the flight time hours to get better control of it.

Here the rotor blades have been attached:

Here we are ready to launch:

Here’s the first flight test:

Here’s a second attempt. We tried a metal grating as a launch pad as the legs were sticking slightly in the grass:

We’ll be flying it some more in the near future. We’ll be able to attach a camera in order to take imagery from the air and composite it together to make maps and visualizations (eg using Dronemapper.com). We can also program the GPS to fly it to certain spots, or to have it “loiter” in one area, taking imagery. We hope to be using this in the classroom and also for research as part of our New Maps initiative.

Update. I’ve added the kmz of our flights here.

AAG New York City: Tribes or Tensions?

I had a good time at AAG, and found it a solid if not remarkable conference. The word on the street during the conference was that it was the largest ever, at over 9,000 people. That’s pretty big league. We used to gasp at the Esri User Conference being so huge at 13,000, which it is, or the MLA at 10,000. Partly this is location, with its East Coast time zone and accessibility to Europe. Next year is LA so we’ll see.

One of the more interesting discussions came up at the Iron Sheep debriefing session (described here). It was mentioned that VGI/geoweb/web mapping services and “traditional” GIS were two tribes, and that for today’s upcoming graduate students while VGI/geoweb was innovative and interesting, it was the “wrong” tribe (Renee Sieber).

I’m not sure this is the right way to think about it though. It diverts attention to the dichotomy of the right vs. wrong tribes in which to belong. Rather, as I argued in my book, we can think of the situation as the play of tensions across the field of cartography, as illustrated here.

Upcoming graduate students and others are being pulled in two or more directions, and do not wholly belong in one tribe or another. The idea of separate and opposing tribes is too simple. (Parallel cases are C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”).

One is situated at different positions on the field, or different squares of the chessboard if you prefer, at different moments. (If it wasn’t 7am in the morning following a restless night I would say something profound here about the inevitability of power meeting its own resistance.) At some times, you will be using Big GIS like an Esri product. At others you will using MapQuest-OSM tiles with open source map rendering. While the allure of these newer more open tools is attractive, it is also premature I think to speak of the “democratization” of mapping and geography.

As Muki Haklay pointed out in one of the best papers I saw at the conference, most of what these tools provide here are for–and by–the “outliers.” The 1 percent if you like, of users. (His talk was basically an extension of the “long tail” hypothesis.)

This applies not only to the geoweb, but to Big GIS as well. The challenge then as always, is to smooth out the long tail and, to use Muki’s phrase decrease “digital inequality.”

Distance and punish

I was thinking recently about the deliberate strategy of using distance to punish. I thought initially of the everyday occurrence when driving and somebody cuts you off. Some people then hang back from the offending car, placing a bit of distance between them as if to say to the world, stay away, this guy’s a bad driver! Of course, I’ve never done that or had it done to me! But you’re using distancing to punish and even shame someone.

Then yesterday I was out on the sidewalk in front of my house retrieving my wheely-bin (or Herbies as they’re called here). A guy was coming down the street who looked like he might be homeless (though I don’t know). Anyway he deliberately stopped walking toward me quite some way away and looked up into the air. I smiled at him but he wouldn’t meet my eye. After I wheeled the bin up the driveway he gradually resumed and continued walking along the sidewalk in front of my house. Could be liberal guilt of course but I was wondering if it wasn’t also a strategy of deliberate distancing to highlight…well I’m not quite sure. Neither of us knew each other so whatever it was it wasn’t personal.

There are probably lots of other examples of this this that might occur to you.