“A lot of white roads waiting to be turned green”—JB Brown and his 200,000+ mapped kilometers

With more than 200,000 km mapped, JB Brown has dominated the Mapillary contributions leaderboard since joining two years ago. We recently caught up with him to hear about what motivates him, and how he explains Mapillary and mapping when he gives members of the Amish community a ride in his van.

The Mapillary community is truly diverse. We have people and organizations from all across the world, more than 190 countries, uploading images to Mapillary from road trips, bike rides, even canoeing adventures. Although the database of imagery is now vast—containing more than 380 million images—80% of it still comes from people like you and me.

Some contributors are particularly dedicated. JB Brown has been a Mapillary community member for two years now, and he’s been at the top of the contributors' leaderboard for most of that time. In total, he’s mapped more than 200,000 kilometers. We had the opportunity to meet with JB during State of the Map US earlier this month, where he volunteered after driving all the way from Ohio to Detroit.

We took the chance to ask him about his mapping adventures across the US

Announcing the interview with JB to the rest of Mapillary.
As you can see, they all got pretty excited!

JB Brown spends a lot of his time on the road—he is a friend of the Amish community, and makes a living from driving his Amish patrons around town and across the country.

You’re the number one mapper on Mapillary, and you’ve mapped more than 200,000 kilometers. Where does your dedication come from? “I used to be the number one contributor on Google Earth, and when they shut down I had a hole in my life. Very soon after I heard of Mapillary, and I signed up straight away. I am motivated by taking pictures, but I also like being number one. Because I drive the Amish I get to map rural areas that haven’t been mapped before. That becomes less and less true though, as I’ve turned many white roads green.”

img2 JB Brown’s contributions in green

JB’s efforts include always having five cameras up when he’s driving. Two cameras are attached on each side of his van, facing the curbs, whereas one phone is constantly uploading data.

“I’m uploading data 24/7. If I’m not driving, I’ll upload images from several phones at the same time.”

Of course, the Amish community doesn’t typically engage with electronics of any kind. So how does JB go about explaining all the cameras on his van?

“The Amish don’t believe in cameras, so although I capture a lot of images I explain it as harvesting data. I say that I’m looking for the centerline in the roads and for road signs, and that Mapillary has computers to recognize these things and can therefore place it on a map.”

“I’m doing this for free and for a bigger purpose. A big part of my business is taking the Amish to funerals. I’ve always thought that when your funeral comes, it’s too late to make the world a better place. This is my opportunity to make the world a little bit better. I don’t make much money driving the Amish, so a great way to add value is to take these photos that then anyone can use to make maps better. The way I see it is that I’m improving the maps of the future.”

Although JB has been mapping for years on end, State of the Map US in 2018 was the first time he met with other mappers—or, as he likes to call them, data harvesters.

“This is my first time meeting other harvesters. I do keep a close eye on them on the leaderboards, though. What can I say, I like being number one. This conference is actually the longest time I haven’t been out mapping since I first started. If there was one thing I’d say to other people it’s that there are a lot of white roads out there waiting to be turned green. I’d like to see more people mapping. If I can be top dog on the leaderboard, anyone can do it.”

img3 Me and JB during State of the Map US earlier this month

Do you have a great mapping story you want to share? We’d love to hear it—reach out to chris@mapillary.com for the chance to have it featured on the Mapillary blog.

/Chris, Solutions Engineer

Continue the conversation