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A simple DIY kit to take aerial photographs of things that are important to you - from hundreds of feet up. The drone alternative!
A simple DIY kit to take aerial photographs of things that are important to you - from hundreds of feet up. The drone alternative!
A simple DIY kit to take aerial photographs of things that are important to you - from hundreds of feet up. The drone alternative!
161 backers pledged $12,259 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Kickstarter Gold: Balloon Mapping Kits

$12,259

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Seven years ago, during an environmental crisis -- the BP oil disaster -- and a media blackout, where information about the spill was being tightly controlled, hundreds of people came together to collect their own data. Using just cameras, attached to balloons or kites, the Balloon Mapping Kit was born, and with it, the Public Lab community.

Since then, thousands of people have balloon mapped, and joined the Public Lab network -- tackling new environmental problems, working together, and trying new things. Our goal is to greatly expand our worldwide community of people who are equipped, practiced, and ready to document environmental threats, damage, and remediation efforts.

Why we need you

Now we're taking the next step, and in Public Lab tradition, we want to do it collaboratively -- with your help! Our new Mini Balloon and Mini Kite Kits are Prototyping Kits, meaning that there are lots of unresolved questions about how best to use them, and we're looking to you all to identify, prototype, discuss, and solve these issues. If we can get this new generation of smaller, lighter, cheaper, and easier aerial photography kits debugged and ready for anyone to use, our community can reach thousands of new people!

What will you balloon map?

This campaign will help us continue to evolve our aerial mapping tools to make them even more affordable, accessible, and adaptable so that individuals and communities can respond quickly to the issues they see in their environment. It will also help continue to grow a community of researchers, investigators and advocates by providing tools, resources and training to people and organizations facing environmental challenges. Finally, we'll use the funds to help build out more documentation -- like a how-to video, and the pocket guides and poster below.

REWARDS

The base reward is the much improved Balloon Mapping Kit -- the descendant of the jumbled box of parts from our original campaign 5 years ago.

As mentioned, we’re also launching two new experimental kits to take this to the next level, with your help. Cameras are getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable, and many people can now use cheaper, smaller balloons and kites to lift these tiny cameras. Read on to learn about our different kits!

Balloon mapping at a stormwater workshop in New Orleans
Balloon mapping at a stormwater workshop in New Orleans

BALLOON MAPPING KIT

The classic Public Lab Balloon Mapping Kit comes in the iconic suitcase box designed by Nick Chelyapov (read about its unique design process here!) and includes: 

  • 1000 feet of string 
  • 5.5 foot weather balloon
  • canvas gloves
  • rubber bands, zip-ties, and a carabiner

You add: 

  • a camera
  • a soda bottle
  • helium

MINI BALLOON KIT

The Mini Balloon Kit is based around the 36 inch wide mylar foil balloons found by contributor Pat Coyle -- which are much cheaper (as little as $3 each!), and can stay inflated for over a week. They fit in the back seat of your car, or can be taken on the subway. Heck, unlike the big red rubber balloons, they fit through a doorway. The Mini Balloon Kit is a Prototyping Kit and comes with: 

  • 1000 feet of 50 lb string
  • 3 36" mylar balloons
  • canvas gloves
  • rubber bands, zip-ties, and a carabiner

You add:

  • a lightweight (<100g) camera
  • helium
Zach from Parts & Crafts takes a balloon through a doorway!
Zach from Parts & Crafts takes a balloon through a doorway!

Each can lift about 25 grams -- vs. the classic kit’s 300+, and a little more if there’s perfectly calm weather. Instead of renting a helium tank, you can fill them at a florists’ shop or party store, and shuttle them to where you’ll do your mapping. They also hold up a bit better to sunlight and rough handling, although they’re still delicate. This kit includes everything from the classic Balloon Mapping Kit, but ships with 3 of these mylar balloons, and uses lighter (50 lb test) weight string. 

We’ve collected a list of cameras light enough to work with 2-3 of these balloons. With a lighter option, that means you'll have a spare balloon.

But there are remaining questions and refinements to make on this kit -- that’s why we’re calling it a Prototyping Kit -- and, just like the original Balloon Mapping Kit, we’re going to collaboratively work on these issues by sharing knowledge on the Public Lab website

To get involved -- even before the campaign ends -- check out these Mini Balloon Kit Activities, ask and answer Questions, and add your own Stories here.

MINI KITE KIT

The mini kite kit is similar to the mini balloon kit, but ships with a large “octopus” kite that’s a beautiful and stable flyer in medium winds, and packs down into a small nylon bag for easy travel. It won’t fly in as light wind conditions, or carry as much as our full-size Kite Mapping Pack, but you can throw it in your backpack or in a Public Lab tote, and honestly the octopus is just a lot of fun to fly. This kit comes with:

  • 1000 feet of 50 lb string
  • 1 large "octopus" kite
  • canvas gloves
  • rubber bands, zip-ties, and a carabiner

You add:

  • a lightweight (<100g) camera

Just like the Mini Balloon Kit, this is a Prototyping Kit and you'll be collaboratively working on improving it with us at PublicLab.org

To get involved -- even before the campaign ends -- check out these Mini Kite Kit Activities, ask and answer Questions, and add your own stories here.

These lightweight cameras weigh only 58 grams.
These lightweight cameras weigh only 58 grams.

LIGHTWEIGHT CAMERAS

Want to try one of the lightweight GoPro-like cameras Public Labbers have been testing out? (One survived a fall from 70 feet in its case -- though not recommended!) We're now offering versions of several of our rewards that include this tiny camera, with shockproof + waterproof cases (though that adds a few grams!). Read about our testing with one of these in this Atlas Obscura article!

A poster "prototype" sketch and booklet mockup!
A poster "prototype" sketch and booklet mockup!

PAPER-BASED REWARDS

Just need the instructions, and want to find your own parts? While the materials list and guides are always open source on Public Lab's website, this pocket guide includes a rework of our classic community-produced balloon mapping guide, in a compact and field-notes-ready booklet. Or put the source code on your wall with a fantastic "how to balloon map" poster -- final design details to be posted soon. 

USES

People around the world have used the Balloon Mapping Kit and its many variations for all kinds of projects over the past seven years, and hundreds of examples can be found on the Public Lab site

For just a taste of the possibilities, read about projects involving: 

4000 maps in MapKnitter.org, on a map
4000 maps in MapKnitter.org, on a map

 

Balloon and kite mapping have been used around the world, for example in:

And so many more!

What about drones?

One question we hear a lot is "Why don't you just use a drone?". Our original balloon mapping kit was developed before consumer drones were easily available, and while drones present an interesting range of possibilities, they remain inaccessible and unaffordable to many. That said, we don't think of our aerial mapping tools just as substitutes for commercially produced drones! Public Lab tools are all Open Source, which means that everything can be built, used, modified and shared by anyone who wishes. 

Our aerial mapping tools have been developed by the people that use them, and come with a strong tradition of community support. Do you want to know more about how a design evolved, or are you interested in receiving feedback, or sharing your own ideas and designs? We encourage participation in our online spaces and local meetups, where you can collaborate, seek advice, and share successes with a diverse group of people around the world.

Risks and challenges

NOT “JUST A STORE”

Distributing kits as we do, it’s always a risk that people will think of us as an online business, and not a growing community (and a non-profit) where their involvement is more important than the money they spend. We’re doing our best to communicate what we’re about through the story above, but we’re also dedicated to shaping the objects themselves, their boxes and packaging, to communicate this ethos. That said, we've run four successful Kickstarters in this way, and have been distributing tens of thousands of kits around the world for seven years -- so it's not new to us!

TACKLING CHALLENGES TOGETHER

Part of the challenge of Public Lab work in general is to encourage people to share and build things together -- not just things they’ve done, but questions they want to ask, concerns they have, and requests for help. Sometimes it can feel like these are impositions on everyone else, but at Public Lab we celebrate them as the very foundation of the collaborative process. Sharing half-completed projects, doubts, and frustrations can help invite others into your work and strengthen it.

Of course, it can also be a challenge to encourage people to report back when they do projects. These projects are about more than “tools” -- they’re about the stories that come from people adapting, reshaping, and applying them to a thousand different problems or scenarios. We’ll be highlighting many of the stories of people’s amazing work with balloon mapping kits

Finally, these essentials -- engagement in collective brainstorming, troubleshooting, and sharing -- are even more important with the new kits we’re introducing, our Prototyping Kits. These kits have a range of issues and unknowns to tackle, and we’re counting on you all to get involved and put them through their paces.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Balloon Mapping: the how-to poster

    This poster will show a diagram of the balloon mapping kit in a beautiful and richly informative way -- we're working with a community partner to have them lovingly printed in color -- put the Balloon Mapping "source code" on your wall!

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    Pocket Guide to Grassroots Mapping

    This booklet fits in your pocket, but contains all the information you need to start balloon or kite mapping anywhere in the world. It also includes blank pages for taking field notes!

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    Poster and Pocket Guide

    Get both the poster and the pocket guide!

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Mini Balloon Kit

    (limited early bird edition) Like our classic balloon kit, but smaller and more nimble! You get mylar balloons, 1000' of 50-pound line on an 6" hoop winder and an assorted extra clips and straps. Balloons are great for lower altitude photography, and in places where you might need to raise and lower your rig to move under powerlines or bridges.

    You add a camera, a soda bottle (or camera rig of your choice), and helium that you can obtain at most florists or party stores.

    Comes with poster and booklet.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Mini Kite Kit

    (limited early bird edition) The Mini Kite Kit will ship with a small squid (or octopus!) parafoil kite, 1000' of 50-pound line on an 6" hoop winder, gloves, and an assorted extra clips and straps. The Mini Kite is easy to pack and store, and can be used in stronger wind conditions than the mini balloons.

    Comes with poster and booklet.

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    Pledge $70 or more About $70

    Mini Kite & Mini Balloon Combo

    The Combo Kit will ship with a small squid (or octopus!) parafoil kite, mylar balloons, 1000' of 50-pound line on an 6" hoop winder, gloves, and an assorted extra clips and straps. Both kits are easy to pack and store, and with a kite and balloon available, you will be ready to fly in any weather!

    You add a camera, a soda bottle, and about $30 of helium (or just the wind!).

    Comes with poster and booklet.

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    Pledge $85 or more About $85

    The Classic Balloon Mapping Kit

    Refined by hundreds of people over 7 years, this iconic Public Lab kit includes a 5.5 foot rubber balloon, 1000' of 100-pound line on an 8" hoop winder, protective gloves, and assorted extra clips and straps.

    You add a camera, a soda bottle, and about $35 of helium.

    Comes with poster and booklet.

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    Mini Kite Kit & Mini Camera

    The Mini Kite Kit plus a mini ~60g camera and waterproof case.

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    Pledge $110 or more About $110

    Mini Balloon Kit & Mini Camera

    The Mini Balloon Kit plus a mini ~60g camera and waterproof case.

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    Pledge $130 or more About $130

    Mini Kite/Balloon Combo + Camera

    The Mini Balloon Kit plus a mini ~60g camera and waterproof case.

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    Classic Balloon Mapping Kit + Camera

    The Classic Balloon Mapping Kit plus a mini ~60g camera and waterproof case.

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    All-in-One Mapping Kit

    A combination of the Classic Balloon Mapping Kit, and mini balloons, kite and string from the Mini Kits -- plus the poster and booklet!

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    Pledge $210 or more About $210

    All-In-One Mapping Kit + Camera

    The All-In-One Mapping Kit plus a mini ~60g camera and waterproof case.

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Funding period

- (30 days)