* Michel Vallée

Even though I’m an engineer, I’m one of those old fashioned guys who have trouble embracing new technology. For years I kept hearing about crowdsourced mapping where universal access to open software allows people to take photos of their surroundings and use them to make maps. The result of that collaborative process involving thousands upon thousands of contributors is a cybercartographic atlas.

Recently I decided to give it a try, instead of collecting road data in a more traditional way, via heavy video files that aren’t easy to share. On my first field visit in Nicaragua, I was invited to sit comfortably in the back of a car and enjoy the scenery. The second time, I sat in front carrying my new toys, a GPS-capable smartphone and a tablet loaded with GPS software. After one day in the field, I became a believer.

Data and tools intended for public re-use

Every phase of a road project needs maps. If an image is worth 1,000 words, imagine what 5,000 images on a stretch of road are worth! The information conveyed by mapping is infinite and can be used at any point, from preparation to execution, reporting or evaluation. Global coverage open source maps and even street views using a crowdsourcing model such as the well-established OpenStreetMap or the Mapillary startup for street views are remarkable examples of the trend towards more open business models and there is many more.


These tools and services are rapidly developing, easy to use, and usually free. Additional features are available for a reasonable license fee. Geographic information, including street level photos, panoramas or various objects, can be captured using smartphones and modern software by anyone visiting project sites. Mappillary, for instance, allows you to take pictures every 2 seconds which you can easily upload to their website. Using smartphones to conduct road infrastructure inventories saves tons of paper and opens a new era for public administration of data because the information can be re-used for feasibility studies, environmental assessments, socio-economic snapshots, land tenure issues… the list goes on and on. Taken over time, photos along the roads build a historic database providing a rich understanding of the right-of-way and its evolution.

Now that I’m a convert, I’m preaching the use of these tools to raise project management efficiency. So, jump in the front seat, attach your devices to the windshield, and share more of your valuable work. Don’t leave home without them!

* Michel Vallée is Infrastructure Advisor for Haiti Department, Inter-American Development Bank.

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