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Crowdsourcing and Image Analysis for #MH370

Thursday, March 13th 2014
By Joe Francica

Inky black seas and a few white caps ... and maybe a ship. Over the last few days, I've participated in the crowdsourcing effort to find Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 via Tomnod, the imagery platform acquired by DigitalGlobe last year. So far, I've reviewed 500+ map tiles delivered by Tomnod.

The task, for more than 25,000 people at last count, was to review imagery provided by DigitalGlobe and "tag" things they believed to be part of the plane wreckage, rafts, oil slick or something else that would be tagged as "other." If an item was tagged, I assume a professional would review the tag and give it credence or not. And, the Tomnod interface would show you if others agree with your tag.

The one thing I found difficult was that the reference map in the legend did not provide the geographic position of the imagery under review, making it difficult to put the map tiles into a geographic reference. I believe the imagery exposed to me were in the Gulf of Thailand where some of the original searches have been conducted.

Via Twitter, I've seen lots of people tagging white caps. Having performed image interpretation and processing for a good part of my career, I hope I can tell a white cap from a piece of wreckage which would have a distinct "man-made" signature. However, with crowdsourcing you might get lots folks "hoping" they see something remotely useful. Regardless, because of the size of the area, which seems to be expanding every day, you need anyone with a good pair of eyes to scour the 100's of square miles that are now in play for where the Boeing 777 might have gone down.

The image below shows what I believe to be ship at sea. It is approximately 40 meters in length (a scale bar was provided by Tomnod) and could be just a fishing trawler or a ship looking for wreckage. But due to the resolution of the imagery it makes it somewhat difficult for absolute confirmation. It certainly looks man-made and perhaps you can discern a bow wake. But there's no trailing wake which makes me suspicious.

Regardless, I commend DigitalGlobe for reaching out to the global community in the search effort.

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