FEATURE-Is it a building? Is it a rock? Using technology to chart the 'unmapped world'

martes 16 de junio de 2015 04:00 GYT

By Joseph D'Urso

LONDON, June 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Load up Google Maps and zoom in on Manhattan and you will see skyscrapers' air vents mapped in three dimensions. Zoom in on South Kivu in eastern Congo, a province as big as Sri Lanka with nearly 5 million people, and just a few roads are marked.

The Missing Maps Project gets volunteers to mark satellite photographs of undermapped places, building detailed maps which can be used by aid agencies wanting to know how many houses are in a village or trails are in a forest.

Grant Swanpoel, a software designer for a bank, is spending his evening in a London university classroom, peering at a grainy aerial picture of an arid patch of South Sudan, trying to work out if a cluster of dark pixels is a building or a rock.

"I like maps and wanted to do something for the greater good," said Swanpoel, a South African attending his first "mapathon".

He consults with his neighbours, and decides what he is looking at is a building. He clicks on it and marks it as such. Missing Maps Project volunteers are allocated a quadrant of land to study, marking everything that looks like a road or dwelling.

A second pair of eyes then has a look and validates the changes. Where possible, field workers eventually follow up on the ground, checking that a grainy line marked as a road doesn't have a tree or wall running across it.