Public Lab Research note

Doing it Yourself: Kite-mapping… an activity for the ‘privileged’?

by cindy_excites | | 5,109 views | 6 comments |

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Kite, check, reel, check, camera, check, SD card & batteries, check, camera rig, check, gloves, check, map, check, sunglasses, check. Weather conditions: partially cloudy with intermittent winds.

Perhaps doing citizen science, as in taking the initiative to start a scientific project by yourself, requires a lot more than we think and makes us realise how much we take for granted.

DIY Delta Kite - a Public Laboratory prototype I went out this past weekend to try some kite-mapping in a park in North London. It is quite easy to get excited about it as you unfold the large white and red delta-kite – instant joy as you imagine yourself running across a field with the kite riding high up in the sky. I began the little project by looking at the Public Laboratory instruction sheet that came with my balloon/kite-mapping kit. I had the time to spare and so together with my partner we decided to make a fancier camera rig that would allow the camera to hang freely with great stability and for this we looked at a DIY Picavet rig online to prototype our model. We fetched a little piece of plywood that was lying around and from our handy toolbox we got our saw, looped screws and nails. We made our DIY rig, packed our bag with all our necessaries and off we went to the park.

It was a long and frustrating first attempt with most of the time spent on trying to get the kite up there. "There's just no wind - should we try again?" "Can't come back tomorrow - I've got to work". But in the end, the photos were not too bad! See slideshow below. Mapping using kites or balloons filled with helium is an incredible experience. However, balloon-mapping here in London is not as viable as kite-mapping because helium is difficult to get a hold of and its high price per tank reflects its rarity. The delta kite I used is a £5 prototype I helped build last November at the annual Public Laboratory Barnraising event. The workshop itself took 3.5 hours. Preparing the equipment and flying the kite took 6 hours. Analysing the photographs and stitching them to overlay them on Google maps will take another 5-6 hours.

Some argue that citizen-supported scientific initiatives are for the privileged few (Brossard and Shanahan, 2003; Jenkins, 1999; De Vos and Reiding, 1999); that in order to be able to do activities such as these you have to have: the time to spare, quick access to information, the means to get the tools needed, and the self-confidence characteristic of those who either have nothing to lose by doing this and failing at it or are an established middle class or higher living in a developing country.

A surge in citizen science in the last decade, especially, in citizen cyberscience (facilitated by the Internet, the Web and widespread of ICTs) can be linked to a trend in higher attainment in education, reduction in working hours coupled with an increased in leisure activities, etc. Indeed, this points to a bias in the socio-economic make-up of citizen science (Haklay, 2013). However, it is also important to highlight that the overall effect of these trends is taken for granted. Humanity is in fact living a better life now compared to the last century, with an exponential rise in recent decades (Veenhoven, 2010). In fact, although a reliance on well-educated individuals in citizen cyberscience initiatives might be taken for granted by project designers, the proliferation of DIY fora and other websites (e.g.,,, to name a few) betrays a strong initiative by ordinary citizens from all walks of life. And just like with kite and balloon mapping, DIY approaches to research are increasingly being used in many, many corners of the world, pushing for a democratisation of science and engineering.

Brossard, D. and Shanahan, J. (2003): Do Citizens Want to Have Their Say? Media, Agricultural Biotechnology, and Authoritarian Views of Democratic Processes in Science. Mass Communication and Society, 6:3, 291-312

De Vos, W. and Reiding, J. (1999): Public understanding of science as a separate subject in secondary schools in The Netherlands. International Journal of Science Education, 21:7, 711-719

Haklay, M. (2013) Citizen science and volunteered geographic information. In Sui, D., Elwood, S. and Goodchild, M. (Eds.) Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge: Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice, 105-122

Jenkins, E. W. (1999): School science, citizenship and the public understanding of science. International Journal of Science Education, 21:7, 703-710

Veenhoven, R. (2010): Life is Getting Better: Societal Evolution and Fit with Human Nature, Social Indicators Research, 97:1,105–122


The tools were using are getting easier and less time consuming to use - partially through our leaning from "less privileged" traditions like kite flying communities the world. I think your point on self confidence is a great one though. Its a common attitude that "scientists just know" what's right or wrong. or engineers. Still, an attitude that is eroding after things like the Fukushima disaster.

a great contrast to kite mapping which puts things in some perspective is the drone community, which must be from a particular socioeconomic background due to the cost and complexity of their tools, but also has a different attitude -- borrowing some terms and perspectives from the military and defense world.

I've heard complaints that the KAP community is primarily affluent white and male, but one thing that makes the public lab community different (perhaps) is the interest in low tech, "homebrew" solutions instead of threads to the top you see in the performance-oriented KAP community. ...the pride you see when someone figures out that you can use a common household material -- like exposed film - instead of an expensive, scientific grade filter.

anyhow, very thought provoking, as you can see from my rambling comment.

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Hi Cindy,

Great post! Thanks for the link to the picavet, I might give that a try next next week. Did it work well for you?

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Hello, I was in Perugia at the Journalism Festival (second day, rainy, no wind at all...) - Now I have made a wooden picavet (like yours) and then recovered and tested a kite I had - first without picavet - but it proved to be really too unstable to attach to it anything... in Perugia you informed us about artisans selling handmade kites the same price as commercial ones - I looked for something like that on, but I haven't found - would you be so kind to give me a link, please? Thanks

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Hello Fra! I am glad to hear you have been giving aerial mapping a try. The hand-made kites I mentioned are by Dan Leigh, a UK-based kite builder ( - you can find out in his website what kind of kite you need based on wind conditions, etc ( One of the kites we flew in Perugia was made by him and it was specially crafted for low winds - it is a modification of the R7 ( He also has information about reels and kite lines in his website (

Public Lab sells kite kits (with two kites - one for low and one for high wind speeds but no reel, instructions, gloves, or attachements - as well as all in one balloon and kite mapping kits ( Take a look at their products page to get and idea of what you might need to get your mapping project going ( You could also check out the Public Lab website on kites for more information about making/buying kites:

A must visit page for tips on kite mapping: And if you are planning a collaborative mapping effort, check out a"dvanced decision-support tool for selecting optimal participatory mapping method":

I hope this helps and please do keep in touch! Let us know how it goes here in Public Lab - post your notes and tell us how things have worked or not for you so we can also learn from you. Cheers!

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Hi Sara! Sorry for the very delayed response! Yes, the plywood picavet that Ted made has worked very well. We've made several copies and all are in good condition still. We used them in Perugia Italy last month and will be using them in Switzerland in the next few weeks. I'll keep notes and share!

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Thanks so much Cindy! you gave me many links. It was a little idea I had since a long while ago to take picture from above... I had read an arcticle on a magazine in the past about kap... but last time in Perugia you showed us that's all so easy - to make a picavet on your own and to attach it to the string of the kite... it's extremely simple! I have the picavet now, and I hope to have a kite next! About the picavet, I have made mine of plywood, too - one of poplar plywood, the other of birch plywood - the two kind of plywood more widespread in Italy. I've noticed that poplar is much lighter then birch (wich is sturdier) - you know that very well since a while... Have a good staying in switzerland! Cheers!

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