Want fast, cheap, and ultra-high-res images of the Gulf oil spill? Go fly a kite!

Last week Peter Wayner wrote in the NY Times about the Canon Hack Development Kit, which makes it possible to write scripts to control Canon PowerShot cameras. The article describes how hobbyists fly this kit on weather balloons to perform high-altitude surveillance.

It can also be used for low-altitude surveillance. Last week I moderated a panel at Gov 2.0. One of the panelists, John Crowley, showed ultra-high-resolution (9cm/pixel!) imagery of the Gulf oil spill that was taken from a kite carrying one of these hacked Canon cameras. This isn’t just way faster and way cheaper imagery than we’ve seen from official sources. It’s also way better.

John Crowley doesn’t regard this as a hobby. Working for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and STAR-TIDES, he researches and develops emergency infrastructure for stressed populations. That means shelter, water, power, and sanitation, but also information and communication technologies (ICT). Kite surveillance of the Gulf was one of his compelling ICT examples. Another was an OpenStreetMap project that collaboratively mapped out the affecteed areas of Haiti in the days following the quake. I don’t yet have links for these examples but I’m going to ask @jcrowley to provide them, and I hope he’ll join me for an Innovators podcast.

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