Map the Developing World with Missing Maps and Mapillary

This is a guest post from Drishtie Patel from the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross has been using Mapillary in their Missing Maps project.

Missing Maps

The Missing Maps Project is an unprecedented collaboration between the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières-UK (MSF-UK, or Doctors Without Borders-UK), and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. The project aims to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world so that NGOs and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises affecting these areas.

Since the project launch in November 2014, we have focused on the first phase of the mapping process: remote mapping using satellite imagery made available to the OpenStreetMap community. To date over 2,500 volunteers have attended one of our many tracing events (mapathons) in 11 countries, collectively making 3.7 million edits to OpenStreetMap and putting 4.5 million people on the map.

Recently we have formalized efforts on the second phase of the process: traveling to multiple countries to conduct community mapping. We selected four distinct communities for our initial community mapping in order to gain experience in a range of environments and refine our methodology. Locations comprise of an urban area in Zimbabwe, a rural town in Tanzania, rural villages in Rwanda, and a dense urban slum in Bangladesh.

Drishtie Patel - Helping a team find their location for mapping in Rural Rwanda

Why use Mapillary

We decided to start using Mapillary in Canaan, Haiti for the first time with the plan of revisiting the area periodically over the next few months to watch it change over time.

We attached the camera to the inside of our vehicle, set the camera to record an image every two seconds, and had the GPS device record our tracks so that we’d know where each image was taken. Then we hopped in our vehicle and set off for Canaan. This method enabled us to capture more than 5,000 images—covering nearly 70 miles of Canaan’s roads—in just two days! The images are now up on Mapillary.

Map with Mapillary tracks

Since this plan was a success we decided to incorporate Mapillary into our Missing Maps community mapping projects. During field work we drive on all passable roads to support the various teams mapping on the ground. This allows us to collect images for the entire areas we are mapping. We are able to then upload pictures of these remote, vulnerable areas that would most likely not be available elsewhere.

Emily Eros in Rwanda organizing field papers to hand out to teams

Cameras as part of the toolkit

As a part of the mapping toolkit the Red Cross vehicles have cameras mounted on the window. The camera takes photos every 2 seconds and helps to document the surrounding environment such as roads and the conditions of the roads. We use the Garmin Virb cameras instead of phones for a number of reasons. They are easy to use with high-sensitivity GPS, longer battery life and the Digital Stabilization feature allows us to take high definition images even on bumpy rides. Additionally we find it to be a much safer option than walking with mobile phones in some of the high risk areas we map.

Have a look at some of the result here.

Camera mounted in the window

Using the photos to edit maps

As soon as the photos are uploaded, they are available in the OpenStreetMap editors for Missing Maps teams around the world to use.

We hope the pictures will help with more than just the Missing Maps community. We find they are a good reference for tracing, especially to new mappers who can then see what these areas look like on the ground. We always get questions about this from volunteers at mapathons who are trying to decipher and distinguish items they are mapping. These pictures are a huge help as they give context to mappers enabling better quality tracing.

Other organizations can also use these pictures to help plan for programming. It’s difficult to figure out logistics when you are not sure what the area you are going to actually looks like. Information such as road condition, number of lanes, distance between homes/villages and building condition can all be gathered through these pictures.

Find out more

At the recent State of the Map conference held at the UN building in June there were presentations on both Missing Maps and Mapillary. Videos available here:

“Missing Maps”, Drishtie Patel

“Editing OpenStreetMap with Mapillary”, Jan Erik Solem

Update 26 September

Here is what others have written about the project:


"Where Google Street View vans can’t or won’t go, Mapillary, the Red Cross, and the Missing Maps project is trying to “map the rest."

Voice of America

"Red Cross Puts World’s Most Vulnerable Spots on the Map"

A warm thank you to Dristhie for sharing the Red Cross Mapillary story. We love hearing stories from our community and want to hear yours too. Reach out to us at

Continue the conversation