Teenagers Are Mapping Brazil's Slums... With Kites

An ingenious UNICEF project is mapping health threats in Rio De Janeiro's slums, with kites hacked into photography machines by local teenagers.

Teenagers in Rio De Janeiro are teaming up with the United Nations and a nonprofit to document local health dangers. But it's not your usual mapping project: The teens hacked kites (which are popular toys in Rio's favelas) into aerial cameras. Using the digitally enhanced kits, the teenagers take impromptu aerial surveys of different neighborhoods. The kitecam pictures are then examined for signs of garbage piles, overgrown vegetation, physically dangerous public spaces, and other safety hazards. Using the aerial surveys, the kids then set out on foot to take geotagged camera phone pictures of the hazards.

The project is a partnership between UNICEF-Geographic Information System (UNICEF-GIS) and Brazilian nonprofit Centro de Promoção da Saúde (CEDAPS). It's basically a United Nations take on the GIS technology commonly employed by the U.S. government and others that private companies such as Esri specialize in. The geomapping also gets real-life results; according to the BBC's Jane Wakefield, the geomapping led to guardrails being placed on steep stairways, a balcony being added to a nursery school that backed onto a sheer hill drop, and the placing of new recycling bins.

A map of the Rio efforts is available at UNICEF-GIS Rio, and the above Portuguese-language news report gives a good visual overview of how the teens hack their kites into aerial surveying machines.

[Image: Flickr user phalinn]

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