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Imagery from satellites, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other aircraft is being generated more and more, however after a disaster it is difficult for aid workers to determine what imagery is available and where to access it. With funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), OpenAerialMap (OAM) seeks to solve this by providing a simple, open way to process and provide imagery for humanitarian response and disaster preparedness.

Geographic base data is a key component to improving decision making in humanitarian response. It can be the difference between an aid truck arriving quickly at its destination or being stuck behind an impassable road. After a disaster, geography has often permanently and dramatically changed; the best way to quickly update this information is through the use of imagery.

For the past five years the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) has sought to improve the availability of open geographic data in these crises. One of the major lessons we have learned over the years is that having free and open access to imagery is key to the improvement of geographic data. Until now, solutions to this problem have been implemented in an ad hoc fashion and with limited resources. What is required is a more formal service we can improve decision making and contribute to better outcomes. This need inspired us, in collaboration with several partners, to apply to the Humanitarian Innovation Fund to fund this project. We call it OpenAerialMap (OAM).

Process of Applying

HOT has been experimenting with community brainstorming for grant applications over the past year. The idea is that when we see a suitable open grant call we then host a community session or series of session where people can suggest ideas to put into a grant application. Nine months ago such a meeting took place and this document (requires hackpad login) was the result. The OpenAerialMap grant is the first such fruit of these sessions and joint methodologies.

As we were writing the details of what we want and need OpenAerialMap to be, Willow Brugh was nice enough to visualise these ideas.

A visualisation of OpenAerialMap. Credit: Willow Brugh

OpenAerialMap will be a distributed catalogue and hosting service of imagery. A user will be able to go to OAM and search to see what free imagery is available in the area they are interested in. Imagery in this case means georeferenced photos from satellites, UAVs or other aircraft. Key to its availability and accessibility is that OAM will be a distributed system, meaning that responsibility will rest with the commons and not any one organisation.


In the spirit of collaboration and community brainstorming OpenAerialMap will default to open. What that means is the discussion of the project, the code and the documentation will be publicly available as it develops. There are certain goals we have for the development of OpenAerialMap, but specifically how to get there is open for discussion and collaboration. To begin this we are hosting a series of community calls over the next few weeks. Hopefully one of these times works for you, but if not get in touch.

You can also watch the development of the project through the following platforms:

What’s Next?

Through the community calls we will begin sketching out a road map with specifics for the coming months as well as broader milestones over the next year. These calls are open to anyone – we want to build this resource together. Are you a developer, response planner, imagery provider, hosting provider or other interested party? Please join us as one of our meetings or get in touch at openaerialmap@hotosm.org.

Community Collaboration Times

Initial discussion will take place on IRC in the irc.oftc.net #hot channel. IRC is a text based chat system used by many open source projects. IRC works well in low bandwidth environments and using text allows us to keep a log easily for those that can’t make the times. IRC can be accessed through desktop software or a simple web interface. There are further instructions on the OpenStreetMap wiki.

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