Swipe Through Satellite Data to Help Map Vulnerable Populations

Elizabeth Borneman


An app called MapSwipe has been created in order to put the world’s most vulnerable populations back on the map using modern technology. MapSwipe and its team of digital volunteers utilize the abundance of smart phone technology to gather more information on natural disasters and the impact they have on people, cities, and countries around the world.

Using MapSwipe, volunteers can input information about certain locations that could be used by non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in case of a humanitarian disaster. MapSwipe uses satellite data to track the infrastructure of vulnerable places. With MapSwipe things like bridges, navigable roads, the location of small villages and population counts, and other human data can be tracked in order to keep on top of localized changes. In case of a disaster, an NGO would have updated information about where people are actually located and how to access them with necessary assistance, rather than rely on outdated information that could prevent them from providing help in a timely manner.

MapSwipe screenshots.
MapSwipe screenshots.

Combing through thousands of satellite images can be time consuming and costly, which is where technologies like MapSwipe come in. MapSwipe takes advantage of open source data and volunteers who are willing to view certain places in real time to update data and create a clearer picture of a location. This information is useful to organizations like the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, who often work with small populations in rural areas.

MapSwipe’s data feeds into another, larger open sourced map, which has been gathering information for over a decade. This map has been used to coordinate humanitarian interventions in the past, but MapSwipe has yet to undergo this particular test. Although there are currently thousands of volunteers working to add information to MapSwipe’s database, it is still being tested as a practical application.

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.