From Dobongsan to Mount Saint Helens — FOSS4Gs and OpenDroneMap

I’ve touched down and started to settle into Tri-Met country not too long after returning from FOSS4G Korea.

Photo of mountain in the Cascades from airplaneThe public transit is great, the city vibrant with the warmth of a small town, and the energy of an enclave in a big city, and it’s also slightly surreal, now that I’m back where I am no longer, as Paul Ramsey put it, functionally illiterate. Functionally illiterate is what I was for a week and a couple of days in Korea, and thinking of it like that, this was the first time since early gradeschool that one could consider me to be that. Fascinating. I recommend being functionally illiterate every now and then. (Quick aside, I started to learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet today, and it is not so bad. It’s very clever and logical, and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into it).

On Friday I unveil the beginnings of OpenDroneMap, an open source project intended address computer vision in the context of geospatial datasets. This is a project at its infancy, so it’s is as much a call to action, a plea for help, and a “Hey, does anyone want to come out and play?” sort of moment. And I do it now, before the project is too far along so that a wide variety of people can, if they are interested, get involved and have a say in structure, direction, and outcomes associated with it.IMG_20140906_231000

So what is it? Well as a starting place, it’s a fork of an existing computer vision framework ( that allows one to go from unreferenced arbitrary photos to structured information. It’s intended to make computer vision techniques useful and usable for geospatial professionals.

At a moment when PostGIS is so very mature that it does most everything, the waves of invention and reinvention of geospatial are passing again and again through the C, Java, Python, Javascript, and Go (etc.) communities, it is now that we have new possibilities of rich spatial datasets, from crowd-sourced Google Street View like projects such as Mapillary, to the impending deluge of images from civilian Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones). Sadly, many existing tools in this sphere are hard to use, expensive, and or don’t scale well to large datasets. The aim with ODM is to create a toolkit that is easy to use, Free and Open Source (and thus free to modify and use), and scales well to large use cases and moreover to do so within the context of the broader community through a transparent development process.

ODM then is a toolset to augment and supplement existing, now conventional, geospatial technologies like GPS, and give structure to the vast catalog of unstructured data being collected everyday. (I won’t delve into it here, but the other part of the puzzle is the common archiving of unstructured data, ala OpenStreetMap. More on that later).

Pre and post transformed points compared in single figureIn our previous example, we used the implicit information in photos using Multi-Stereo View analysis to correctly restructure bad GPS information. This is a trivial example but mighty powerful stuff.

Let me frame this with a quick diversion: I was blessed with the opportunity to keynote at FOSS4G Korea. I wrote and practiced a clever speech, I flew there to Seoul, and on my ride into town from the airport had a revelatory conversation with Sanghee Shin, my host, as to the nature and future of FOSS4G in Korea. So, I promptly and humbly re-wrote my speech.

In short, this is what I said in my keynote: the South Korean Government is interested in fostering the best endemic resources of the Korean Peninsula, the minds and talents of it’s people, to do great work in software. We know the South Korea for hardware innovations (Samsung, LG, etc.) and world class internet speeds. They want also to be known for their software innovations. I suggested that endemicity (the characteristic of being endemic), government by the people, and commons-based peer production (like open source), are three arenas heavily overlapping in a common space, and that it is natural for Koreans to embrace Free and Open Source Software as an answer to bringing to bear Korean initiative and creativity in software.

Kombucha stand, Portland, Oregon
Kombucha stand, Portland, Oregon

Or put another way — Open Source software is Folk software. Of, by, and for the people, endemic to the creators and users of that software, and if the Korean Government is interested in endemic Korean software communities, then it is in their interest to sponsor and support Free and Open Source Software development and application.

So, my call to action today is that we as the FOSS4G community embrace and lead the development of tools which structure our unstructured information — that together, we build OpenDroneMap and the host of related tools that will aid us in building common geospatial understanding from unstructured data from the street, from the forest, from the fields, and from the air. Next up — the next generation of GeoSpatial software. I am excited to apply and invent it with you, our next generation of Folk GeoSpatial Software. Please join me.


PostScript: Could you hear the crescendo of music in the background? You could? Good. I hope it moved you. If you are at FOSS4G Portland, I hope it moves you to my presentation at 10:30 to 10:55 on Friday in track 5. There will be more crescendoing music. Oh Yes.
PostPostScript: Should OpenDroneMap be part of PostGIS long term? Is that a crazy idea? How about a front end as an extension in QGIS? Come, let’s discuss the madness.PostPostPostScript: I think switching time zones is starting to affect my writing style. Is it better? Worse? Neither better nor worse? Good.PostPostPostPostScript: Goodnight all. 좋은 밤.

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