Sunday, August 9, 2009

Preparing for Afghanistan Elections and Humanitarian Efforts

Some fellow Google engineers and I participated in the Summer 2009 Nangarhar PEAK activity at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, CA. We got to work with some of the great crisis management and neogeographer minds for a few days as we prepared government provided data for Todd Huffman, whom works for an NGO to take to the field.

Todd will be observing the upcoming Afghanistan elections and will be using the technology we glued together this week to help him do so, as well as continuing his many nation-building NGO efforts.

The bulk of the data was provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, but it was provided in a raw format, with no geospatial viewer.

The Google Earth Enterprise team knew we could help out, and we processed the imagery for Todd through Google Earth Fusion, and then published the data as a map, and 3D globe to a Google Earth Enterprise Server running in an Ubuntu Virtual Machine connected to a mac-mini which was provided to Todd to run GeoCommons by FortiusOne.

Within a few hours of the first day, we had our imagery tiles being consumed by many web-based Geospatial applications that Todd would also be able to take to the field with him.

Most of the applications were already configured to work with Google Maps on the Internet, so they knew how to utilize our tiles. In many cases, only a few lines of code and new URLs had to be added to their software packages to work with our Enterprise version of Maps which can be used on or offline.

First - Mikel Maron of the OpenStreetMap Foundation, Josh Livini of Umbrella Consulting, and Michal Migursky of Stamen Design and got our imagery tiles feeding in as the basemap for the Walking Papers slippy map.

Michal built Walking Papers for users in mixed tech environments to print out hard copy maps from OpenStreetMap and bring them out in the field to take notes and collect data. Users can then bring their paper maps into Walking Papers by submitting a scan of them, and their notes and annotations are automatically re-georefferenced to the map thanks to some QR code magic.

This alone is a substantial advancement - keeping the loop of geospatial production working without ever loosing georeferencing and causing users to have to do extra work.

Todd has already mapped out a lot of Jalalabad, but is going to be helping the locals to do a lot of the mapping in their homeland themselves to build out the data on Walking Papers will allow him to orchestrate this without having to have a lot of computers or other tech gear to worry about - just print a map and give it to a local expert to annotate or send them out in the field to mark points of interest and street names. Since many hardcopy maps are going to be printed, the team realized there was an opportunity to use them for multiple purposes.

Josh injected some Python scripting in the Walking Papers workflow which creates an arbitrary grid on the image, and has the ability to apply transparent tiles from the Google Earth Server or from OpenStreetMap thanks to Mikel Maron's work over the base imagery. The grid is intended to allow someone in the field, with no GPS, to use a simple, cheap cell phone and report incidents via SMS by utilizing one of the other technologies that integrated with the Google Maps - InSTEDD's GeoChat .

The grid Josh designed was optimized to make it easy on the end user to report back position over SMS with minimal character usage - and it is scale agnostic. The grid pairs to the map ID on the Walking Papers map, and then GeoChat translates the coordinates on the fly and can display them as an overlay on a map and be read by users in multiple formats; Lat Lon / MGRS / USNG , etc.

Walking Papers was ported to run offline by Josh and Michal and now resides in a local capacity on the same virtual machine and hard drive that is running the Google Earth Enterprise Portable server.

The guys from Sahana and Development Seed were able to bring our tiles into their Content and Disaster Management systems as well, and Andrew Turner was able to log in to his donated server remotely and reconfigure GeoCommons to use the tiles as well. Now all of these platforms have the code in place to pull tiles from Google Earth Enterprise servers in the future when the next disaster strikes.

All paired together, a mobile deployer or crisis responder can take a very light weight but powerful suite of geospatial utilities in the field for stand-alone use, or connect to a network and serve their data out with other local and remote users - with or without Internet connectivity.

I was truly impressed with this group - we knew what our objective was and knew where our different technologies could come together and provide the needed solution. For me, it was wonderful to see a compelling use of our technology and watch it work pretty much flawlessly with open geospatial technologies as we've been promoting. Not bad for a few hours of hard work and a group vision.


Mikel Maron's Summary of the Work @ Brain Off

Development Seed Blog:

Eric Gunderson's Photos:

1 comment:

Abe said...

This is so awesome that I will not be able to sleep tonight. Seriously. Kudos to Sean, Todd, Mickel, Josh, Michal and other members of the team.