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OpenDroneMap: Community-driven 3D mapping

To prepare this blog post, I interviewed my 15-year-old about OpenDroneMap. Why? Well, I thought it was to highlight the importance of software-as-infrastructure and the generational nature of infrastructure: I think a lot about how we are only a few decades into software, maybe three-ish generations, and folks are just beginning to wake up to software- as-infrastructure. Why not speak with the third generation in computing in my family?

Much of what we spoke about most was community and the role of community, co-creation, teaching and collaboration of OpenDroneMap as a project.

What’s OpenDroneMap?

Steve: You’re my foil, as my first born, so I’m going to ask you: What’s OpenDroneMap?

Sam: Your job.

Steve: (Laughing). Very good. What is OpenDroneMap and what does it do? What have you seen me do with it?

Sam: You travel widely and talk to people and teach people. You participate in online forums, collaborate, teach and blog online about OpenDroneMap.

ODM turns simple point-and-shoot camera images into two and three dimensional geographic data

Steve: But what can OpenDroneMap do?

Sam: You collect the seeds of maps: Photographs and location data and you turn that into two-and 3D maps.

Steve: Oh good! You do know what I do! (Laughing.)

Sam: That’s all it is?

Steve: Yeah, that’s the foundation and becomes the basic input data to a bunch of other things, from 3D models of small plant seeds to whole cities, to elevation models for flood modeling or crop productivity estimates, to plain old aerial orthophotos that help us map where people live.

Sam: Why did you start OpenDroneMap?

Steve: The itch I wanted to scratch was how do we, from individuals, small collectives, to larger entities collect the raw data that serves as the basis for everything else we do in the mapping world.

Open collaboration, open mind

Steve: How has OpenDroneMap influenced how you interact with and collaborate with people?

Sam: Between your travels and the pandemic, my relationship with communication as it relates to distance has been defined in a way that’s directly influenced by those factors. I do a lot of collaborative writing with friends and I communicate a lot digitally now. The way I facilitate that for myself and those communities has been influenced by how you communicate online and through conversations about best practices for communicating online.

Reconstructing cliffs in OpenDroneMap via smathermather.com

One of Sam’s biggest hobbies is writing. It’s been really fun to watch him grow as a collaborative writer, co-creating with teams of other kids, both the fun and “easy” stuff but especially the harder stuff: how do we structure fair and meaningful collaboration, how do we mediate when folks we care about in the community have conflicts or are even actively and intentionally creating conflict? The process and the community are as much an outcome as the “product.”

It’s fun to see the lessons we’re learning in the OpenDroneMap community help him structure the communities he participates in. I didn’t think the highlight of the conversation would be that legacy of building and sustaining community.

We often think about the battles we’ve recently lost in free and Open Source software – whether challenges to FOSS with cloud vs. on-premise or the challenges of knowledge, code and intellectual property (IP) being co-mingled in questionable machine learning constructs. But, now we have community and contributor codes-of-conduct, thriving communities like OpenDroneMap that run on-premise and in cloud-native ways. I predict a bright future for next-generation folx who approach community building and online and collaborative co-creation in thoughtful ways learning from our work in free and Open Source communities.

“Our efforts are made possible by collaborations with key organizations, individuals and the help of our growing community.”
 — OpenDroneMap.org

How to get involved with OpenDroneMap

There’s a lot of cool work to do together, whether it’s mapping the world with cameras by grabbing the software at opendronemap.org to improving the mapping software over at github.com/opendronemap. Be sure to join the community at community.opendronemap.org.

Outside coding, to borrow from Justin Dorfman’s recent article, maybe you can help with one of the following:

  • Document a project
  • Design:
    • UI/UX
    • Logos
    • Art direction
  • Triage issues
  • Build a community around a project
  • Advocate for Open Source funding
  • Organize events and meetups
  • Write blog posts and articles about Open Source
  • Translate Open Source documentation
  • Test Open Source software
  • Provide support to Open Source users

If you like to code in Django, Node, Python, C++, and photogrammetry, there are plenty of tasks there, too!

OpenSource.Net is always in interested in Open Source mapping and geo-related projects – if you’re working on one, get in touch!


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