August 24th, 2009 | Published in Google Earth
Recently, three Googlers visited Camp Roberts near Paso Robles in central California. The exercise, organized and hosted by the Naval Postgraduate School, brought tech companies together with testers to collaborate on disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and development.
Shortly after we arrived, we disrupted the relative quiet of the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) by spooling up an 8-core Google Earth Enterprise Server to process satellite imagery provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). We used the server to process the imagery – 1m resolution GeoEye IKONOS scenes over Jalalabad, Afghanistan – with Google Earth Fusion to create a 3D globe and set of Mercator map tiles. We then published the tiles to the Portable Earth Server running in an Ubuntu Virtual Machine to be used as a base imagery layer for mashups by other applications including Sahana, Development Seed, FortiusOne, Open Street Map, and InSTEDD.
Once we provided the new imagery tiles, other applications could pull the imagery into Disaster Management systems, and, combined with their value-added utilities, continually update their geo-information, which positioned them to respond more quickly to the next disaster.
Later in the afternoon, volunteers from the Open Street Map Foundation, Umbrella Consulting, and Stamen Design utilized the imagery tiles and Open Street Map vector overlays to print hard-copy "Walking Papers." These Walking Papers were sent into the field where road and structure information was noted by hand. Back at the TOC, the annotated maps were scanned. Because a QR code on the maps contained coordinate information, annotations were automatically georeferenced as the data was imported into the Open Street Map database. This paper-and-pen method was a smart, practical, low-tech way to to increase the accuracy and data density of vector data for an area of interest.
We saw first-hand the range of challenges technologists face as they look to balance ever-changing information with tools designed for a highly connected world, and as they work in less-than-ideal states of connectivity out in the field. Some problems were successfully dispatched in 20 minutes; others remained unsolved after 3 days.
This week at Camp Roberts reaffirmed the powerful role that agile deployments of geospatial visualization and analysis can play in the quest to build sustainable political structures and mitigate human suffering. We learned to adapt and respond to mixed states of connectivity, and wide ranges of technological states and proficiencies amongst end users. We are going to keep working on projects that aid in the mitigation, recovery and building processes. And we're going to keep supporting open source applications and data projects that address these challenges–and are flexible enough to meet them.