Mapmixer-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University


Graduate students at CMU’s Silicon Valley campus teamed up with NASA to address the difficulty in searching, building, viewing, and sharing useful composite maps on the Internet. Two students, Hongdi Li and Ryan Lucio, and their client representative Trey Smith, recently completed their ‘’ prototype mapset editor, which showcases the primary functionality and the future possibilities of the application.

Their editor allows users to quickly search for sets of related map data (referred to as map layers or feeds) to create a grouping called a mapset that can be selectively viewed together on an interactive map.

Discussing the problem, Smith stated that “the simple story ... is about ordinary users just wanting to put together a couple of map feeds from different parts of the web. It is ridiculous that it's 2012 and there's no simple way for them to put together two map feeds and share the result.” To do this, the Mapmixer tool builds on functionality of existing web-based mapping tools by removing the constraint of having a limited set of moderated map layers and data formats. Instead, it encourages users to contribute and build their own content, which can be easily transported and shared using an open document specification.

In practice, consumers could use the tool for any number of applications. For instance, a prospective homeowner could collect map layers pertaining to local housing prices, crime rates, gas pipelines, and fault lines together as a mapset, for viewing or sharing with a spouse or realtor. Or a cycling event coordinator could build a map containing a route, registration and rest areas, elevation changes, road hazards, and weather for sharing with race participants. Originally born out of a need to bring technology to disaster response, the project also has a long-term goal of helping disaster responders with simlilar - albeit more urgent - mapping needs. Specifically, its features could benefit multi-party collaboration in disaster response and shorten the time for data-exchange in distributed team operations. In addition, it could help responders filter through large amounts of map data by providing a ‘speed-dial’ of specific map layers needed for each individual’s particular role.

While their idea may be a potential product opportunity, the mapmixer team isn’t being greedy with their software. They architected it purposefully to facilitate code reuse and easy integration for other developers. The core of the project is a lightweight, open document specification called MapSetJSON that can be adopted to support sophisticated map layer set management. Their MapSetJSON JavaScript library provides mapset editor and layer library widgets with plug-and-play integration to any third-party web site. And the web application is a simple Django App for map layer set management that can be painlessly added into an existing site.

The team’s effort has caught the eye of Google’s Crisis Response team which is currently involved in meetings with NASA and CMU that will determine the future direction of the project. There is a significant amount of interest in presenting the feature set to a wider audience with the potential integration of various Google technologies such as Google Drive and Google App Engine. Meanwhile the project will continue to be actively developed as part of NASA’s Geocam Disaster Response Project and welcomes collaboration and contribution from the open-source community. Interested parties can find project code at the team’s GitHub or contact Trey Smith for further information.