Innovative Search And Rescue – Crowdsourcing MH370 Imagery

The mystery behind the Malaysian Airlines aircraft – on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur – going off the radar still continues to boggle minds around the world. The incident, which took place somewhere between the east coast of Malaysia and Vietnam’s southern coast is being probed intensely by authorities, but their efforts are falling short says the Malaysian Insider:

The fate of the plane and its passengers remains unknown as search and rescue operation enters its fourth day.

DigitalGlobe – an American company that calls itself the leading provider of commercial high-resolution earth observation and advanced geospatial solutions – has found a way to use its resources to help find the missing airplane that seems to have disappeared into thin air. It has launched a crowdsourcing initiative that could greatly impact, if not revolutionize, the way rescue and search operations are conducted. It allows a large number of users to pore over high resolution satellite images to see if they can spot something that could possibly belong to the aircraft.

 According to a press release, two satellites owned by the company had on Sunday collected imagery of the 3,200 square kilometer region where the Gulf of Thailand runs into the South China Sea, since evidence earlier suggested that the plane-crash may have occurred in that area. On Monday when the Malaysian government rectified the search area to reflect new information, DigitalGlobe quickly revised its tasking plan to collect imagery further north in the Gulf of Thailand.

The images are available for free on a website called Tomnod, where volunteers can click on the link and start inspecting the pictures to tag anything that looks remotely like wreckage that could belong to the plane.

The Tomnod crowdsourcing platform already has around 25,000 registered members, all of which were notified of the campaign via an email that was sent out on Tuesday.

With a scale of half a meter per pixel, the images are of good enough quality to expect some positive results from the crowd. The users can also zoom in on each image for a more detailed view. Speaking to ABC News, Luke Barrington, senior manager of Geospatial Big Data for DigitalGlobe commented:

For people who aren’t able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the Malaysian peninsula, or who can’t fly airplanes to look there, this is a way that they can contribute and try to help out.

Screenshot of a Tomnod page, showing tags

Screenshot of a Tomnod page, showing tags

Once users start tagging the pictures, an algorithm will indicate spots with multiple tags. Expert analysts will then examine these overlaps to determine the most notable areas and pass the information on to concerned authorities. Barrington further added:

We’ll say, ‘here are our 10 top suspicious or interesting locations’. Is it really an aircraft wing that’s been chopped in half or is this some other debris floating on the ocean?”

This isn’t the first time the company has used crowdsourcing to innovate how rescue and search operations are carried out. A smaller campaign was launched last June to search for a yacht which was on its way to Newcastle from New Zealand. Another one was launched after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November, where thousands of users identified more than 60,000 objects of interest within 24 hours.

ABC News: Crowdsourcing the Search for Malaysia Flight 370
The Malaysian Insider: Agonising wait by family of passenger made worse by rumours of hijack
DigitalGlobe Press Release: DigitalGlobe Launches Crowdsourcing Campaign to Find Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet in Satellite Images

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