This is a testing site only. See the live Public Lab site here »

Public Lab Wiki documentation

Balloon/Kite Mapping

This is a revision from February 09, 2012 06:45. View all revisions
8 | 123 | | #22

Public Laboratory Map Toolkit

aerial photography and map making with balloons, kites, or some other platform for flying a camera.

flight platform: Public Laboratory Balloon Mapping Kit reusable chloroprene helium balloon, hoop winder, braided kite line

camera house: PET Bottle & Rubber Band Rig wraps around the camera for protection while firmly mounting it in a position for vertical mapping images.

camera that supports continuous shooting mode or video with a large storage card

map making software: Public Laboratory Map Knitter


This tool is being developed to provide a low cost, easy to use, and a safe method for making aerial image maps. Over the last two years, we’ve build a global community of mappers who are engaged in discussion around the development and use of these tools. Normally aerial image maps are made from satellites and airplanes. This activity introduces easy methods for making on-demand image maps. Our community is particularly interested in applying this to civic and environmental issues.

Applications and example uses

Residents of the Gulf Coast are using balloons and kites to produce their own aerial imagery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill… documentation that will be essential for environmental and legal use in coming years. We believe in complete open access to spill imagery and are releasing all imagery from the oil spill mapping project into the public domain. Browse maps and data from the Gulf Coast in the Public Laboratory Archive

How to make your own

June 21 Lafayette Toolkit

Assemble a balloon kit

Assembling a balloon kit should take you about 1 hour and cost between $100-200.

Download the 4-page illustrated guide to balloon and kite mapping - including a parts list and flying tips (other languages here)

Balloon Mapping Materials »

Read the above page for a full listing of materials and cost/performance comparisons. At minimum, you'll need:

  • at least 1000 ft of string on a spool
  • a cheap digital camera with "continuous mode"
  • a balloon or kite
  • a rubber band
  • tape & scissors
  • leather or cloth gloves

balloon wrangling at UC Davis

How to use it

Balloon mapping

  • The illustrated guide (above) includes lots of tips for a successful flight; print it and bring it with you!
  • Be sure to review the Balloon Mapping Regulations for the US, or the equivalent wherever you are planning to map.
  • Try to launch your balloon to at least 1000 ft for a good compromise of high resolution vs. large area
  • Stay away from power lines, airports, and traffic

Grassroots Mapping site orientation, in technicolor

Kite mapping

  • Kite mapping - A large kite photography community exists -- find online resources and a list of recommended kites.

Sorting and stitching images into maps

Advanced techniques

  • Ground Control Point Targets can help you figure out how your images fit together if there are not good pre-existing maps for your site
  • Infrared Balloon Mapping - Balloon mapping with a modified camera which takes infrared pictures. Good for identifying vegetation and its health.
  • Hydrogen ballooning - don't try this yet, but we're looking into this for places where you can't get helium, or it's too expensive. [[balloon-mapping]]

Get involved!

  • Do you have a site in mind which you'd like to map? Looking for collaborators or just need some tips and advice?

Next Steps

Short-term Goals

Places to start contributing