Johnson et al (2017) – AUVs for VGI

This paper offered an interesting introduction to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), following the process from data acquisition to map distribution. Johnson et al advocate for the development of an Open Street Map-style data repository, where users can volunteer imagery that they’ve collected themselves. This type of platform, they argue, could provide an invaluable resource for citizen science and grassroots initiatives, empowering communities through powerful technological and analytical tools.

The authors characterise a number of challenges to creating a user-contributed repository for AUV aerial imagery drawn from the VGI literature; namely data quality, licensing and supporting broad of user engagement. I would add four important considerations. First, data heterogeneity- it will be a challenge to ’stitch’ separately collected imagery/ DEM data of different formats, resolutions, elevations, aspects, colour balances etc. Perhaps an overlay would be necessary. Second, data coverage- high spatiotemporally resolved imagery may exist for a particular area of interest for a certain community, but may not be useful for others. This could impact the extent to which people are willing to contribute information. Third, privacy- highly resolved mapping services like Google Street View have to take costly precautions to protect subject anonymity. People may not be happy about having detailed images of them/ their personal information made public. Fourth, making the data open- ‘enemies’ of grassroots organisations may have stronger analytical capabilities than their opposition, and be able to manipulate the data to their favour.

These issues apply to other citizen-based aerial mapping projects, but would become more pertinent in the case of a scalable sharing platform. That said, this kind of work outlines an extremely productive venture for citizen science and VGI, and opens a promising avenue for future research.

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