A new app aims to fill in the ar­eas of the map ne­glected by Google and Ap­ple, po­ten­tially a boon to many of the world’s most dis­ad­van­taged re­gions.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS -

An app for all those hard-to-reach places.

WITH GPS ON­BOARD MOST MOBILE phones to­day, nav­i­ga­tion in well-trod ar­eas is border­line brain­less. Such con­ve­nience, how­ever, makes us for­get that big chunks of the world re­main off the map due to a lack of fi­nan­cial in­ter­est to put them on it. Now that is slowly chang­ing with the help of will­ing vol­un­teers, satel­lite im­ages and a Java-based app called Open Street Map (OSM). De­vel­oped by Bri­tish en­tre­pre­neur Steve Coast, OSM re­cruits vol­un­teers from around the world to trace in­fra­struc­ture from satel­lite im­ages and tag it ap­pro­pri­ately. Fur­ther details are prompted, es­pe­cially when iden­ti­fy­ing classes of roads and paths – whether it’s a mo­tor­way, for res­i­den­tial use, or just a rut­ted track. Since its in­cep­tion, the pro­gram has re­ceived back­ing from the Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don and a plethora of tech and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies like Bytemark and Delta Tele­com; but the ul­ti­mate ha l l mark of cred­ibi lit y was per­haps when pop­u­lar AR game Poke­mon Go switched to its plat­form from Google Maps in early De­cem­ber. Vir­tu­ally any­one with data ac­cess can join the map­ping project af­ter sit­ting through the web­site’s tu­to­ri­als. Se­nior map­pers then val­i­date the draw­ings be­fore lo­cal groups on the ground do the fi­nal vet­ting such as iden­ti­fy­ing build­ings and roads with ac­tual names. Re­mote ar­eas fare bet­ter on OSM com­pared to Google Maps. De­tailed build­ings of in­ter­est, in­di­vid­u­ally marked houses and road names fea­ture on OSM for ar­eas like Kam­pung Ten­gah in Jo­hor, Malaysia and Jhapa District in Nepal’s Terai, as op­posed to a uni­form pink, un­charted patch on Google’s ver­sion. Tak­ing OSM fur­ther is its hu­man­i­tar­ian branch, Miss­ing Maps, which has been re­cruit­ing groups of vol­un­teers in events they call ‘ma­p­athons’, fo­cus­ing on un­charted re­gions that should help aid work­ers bet­ter reach peo­ple post-dis­as­ter. Since its in­cep­tion in 2014, 45,000 vol­un­teers have mapped more than 50 mil­lion homes around the world. Biondi Sa nda Sima, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist at Hu­man­i­tar­ian Open­streetmap (HOT) In­done­sia, said its suc­cess is all thanks to the power of the peo­ple: “Crowd-sourced data is stronger than cap­i­tal. Google Maps col­lect data from ad­mins, from peo­ple who’ve walked the streets, which means its cover­age in ur­ban ar­eas are very de­cent. But for a dis­as­ter-prone coun­try like In­done­sia, peo­ple ex­ist ev­ery­where, in ar­eas where there are no maps. Our vol­un­teers help peo­ple like them by putting them on the map with sim­ple tech­nol­ogy.” Sima’s of­fice is HOT’S big­gest branch, larger than its sib­lings in Tan­za­nia, Tur­key, Uganda and the US. Since join­ing four years ago, he’s or­gan­ised ma­p­athons with women, youth and the dis­abled: groups who spot­light in­fra­struc­ture re­lated to their spe­cific in­ter­ests such as street lamps, clin­ics and play­grounds. Data is then fed to their part­ners at the In­done­sian Na­tional Board for Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment, who lobby the gov­ern­ment for fur­ther ac­tion. “We want par­tic­i­pants to be aware of – for ex­am­ple – women’s issues when we’re map­ping and in­clude them in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process in terms of dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness. We have made wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble maps for the dis­abled,” he said. “It’s pretty ex­cit­ing to see the direction of map­ping in the fu­ture.” OSM can be found atwww. open street map. org, and you can join the ef­fort on Miss­ing Maps at www.miss­, where you can pick a lo­ca­tion of in­ter­est or com­mit to ex­ist­ing tasks. Map­swipe is the mobile ver­sion for those on the go: satel­lite im­ages are split into grids and users only need to tap on the ones with build­ings and/ or roads. – Joyce Yip

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