story | Dion Ho, Senior Writer
cover photo | Serena Jael Quay
On Feb. 26, the Yale-NUS College Urban Studies Department organized the inaugural Yale-NUS Mapathon. 12 Yale-NUS students from Yale-NUS gathered at the Computer Lab to learn how to use geospatial technology to create digital maps. Their purpose was to contribute to the open-source Geographic Information System (GIS) called OpenStreetMap.
Starting at 10 AM, participants went through a two-hour long tutorial during which they were taught to use OpenStreetMap. The workshop was led by Urban Studies major Al Lim ‘19, with support from Serena Quay ’19 and Gertie Lim ’19. Participants were taught to recognize major features like buildings and highways from satellite imagery. These features were traced onto the digital maps in OpenStreetMap – a process which is similar to drawing a map on paper.
These digital maps largely contribute to humanitarian efforts. As stated on the OpenStreetMap website: “When a disaster or political crisis happens […] Disaster responders, such as the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, are using these detailed maps in the response to these crises.”
After lunch, the 12 participants broke into six groups of two students each. These six groups competed over the next three hours to map as many buildings and highways as possible in the district 261 Prioritas RPJMN Kota Malang (Indonesia), an area susceptible to floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters. This district is one of the 136 districts which the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) hopes to map to create disaster contingency plans. This mapathon was inspired by a similar mapathon conducted previously in Puerto Rico to map areas which were hit hardest by the September 2017 Hurricane Maria.
In total, the six groups mapped 1365 buildings and 97 highways. The winning group consisted of Fu Xiyao ’21 and Raynold Toh ’21. Together, they mapped 780 buildings, more than half of the total, equating to approximately one building every 15 seconds. For their success, they were awarded a book detailing the history of Singapore.
In an interview with Fu, she said she “never knew that maps could be useful in so many contexts.” She said that she thoroughly enjoyed map-reading, having learned to navigate using paper maps for the purpose of mountain climbing.
When asked how she and Toh were able to map buildings so quickly, Fu replied that mapping is straightforward. She said: “there is a function which allows you to trace a building’s outline. There is also a standard entry in which you can fill in more information about the building, though you can leave it blank.”
“I [was] very grateful to have this opportunity to learn [digital] mapping,” Fu said.