Using Mapillary in Education: Street-Level Imagery for the Next Generation of GIS Professionals

Esri Education Manager, Joseph Kerski, explains how teaching with Mapillary is helping to train the spatial awareness of students who will go on to create the communities of tomorrow.

The idea behind Mapillary is a simple but powerful one: Take photos of a place of interest as you walk, bike, drive, or however else you move across the landscape using the Mapillary mobile app. In fact, Mapillary is helping to generate critical infrastructure and natural resource inventory in places around the world that have no national mapping agency or local GIS data. Mapillary is therefore helping to create a data-informed citizenry that can more effectively plan resilient, safe, and thriving communities. As part of the growing set of artificial intelligence tools, Mapillary can also automatically extract map features from images—light poles, trees, benches, curbs, and so on.

Walking with Mapillary

There are many uses for Mapillary in education, and I have explored all of the following with students at the secondary and university level over the past few years in a wide variety of settings and institutions. I use Mapillary to help students explore places of interest from thousands of users around the world. The Mapillary map page linked to images allows instructors and students to play sequences of images in a flowing video style that provides a powerful immersive experience of thousands of landscapes and places around the world. What clues do the vegetation, land use, building type, weather, and place names give about the climate, ecoregions, biomes, history, and culture of the area?

These images and maps can be powerful sources of inquiry, prompting investigations using other sources and drawing on content knowledge in history, environmental studies, geography, earth science, and even language arts.

Exploring the Mapillary web app

To examine the map and images, from the main page, under the Imagery tile, select “Explore coverage.” A global map will open with the Mapillary data collected shown in green. For example, if you zoom to Melbourne Australia, you will see a large circular feature that I collected in Royal Park, shown below. You can see the photographs I took on a fine late winter day as I was walking to the University of Melbourne to teach a GIS workshop. Look at those fantastic Australian trees!

Mapillary imagery in Royal Park, Melbourne, Australia Example set of Mapillary points and images I collected in Royal Park in Melbourne Australia.

You can also tick the “Play” button in the image to “travel” around the circle as I did, in your case, virtually, using the images. Note how each image indicates where on the map it was captured and what direction from straight ahead I took it. You can also play the sequence in full screen mode with the map in the corner, turn on object detection, or filter the view.


Explore street-level imagery in the Mapillary viewer.

Creating an Esri Story Map

I also use Mapillary with students in the field to create data, and encourage faculty reading this to do the same with your own students. You will need to register for a free Mapillary account to do this. You can use the Mapillary app to create photos and maps to document a field trip to your local wetland, rainforest, prairie, or urban neighborhood, and if you cannot get off campus, use the tools to walk every pathway on campus. The Mapillary app is free and fun to use. It sparks discussions such as “how does the app determine my location?” and “how does the app know what direction I am pointing my phone?

For students who become familiar with creating Esri Story Maps, Mapillary images can be embedded in these types of multimedia maps. Start simply by downloading one image from Mapillary, such as mine, here, in Melbourne, using Download Image while logged into Mapillary. Add this as a map note in ArcGIS Online. Make a story map and experiment with this image. Or, link to the image online. See below for example.

Mapillary image embedded in a map note in ArcGIS Online Example Mapillary image embedded in a map note in ArcGIS Online. Try it yourself with my image.

Next, use these guidelines to start building story maps with Mapillary sequences. Essentially you will get the embed code for the Mapillary image, its thumbnail, and the geographic coordinates. As they are working through the procedures, show them this example set of stories and this story map of a refugee camp for inspiration.

Example set of Mapillary images in a story map Example set of Mapillary images in a story map.

Adding data to ArcGIS Online

Mapillary provides map data as a subscription and downloads are requested through Mapillary for Organizations. Mapillary for Organizations is a workspace that anyone with a Mapillary account can create. Within an organization, there can be multiple individual accounts. Thus, it provides a way to organize capture projects and request data for your area of interest, rather like putting together a team for mapping purposes.

To use Mapillary for educational purposes, you should focus on data that you or your students have collected. If you want to use Mapillary’s automatically extracted map data in education, you can request that data at no cost—simply capture the images yourself, and upload them to the Mapillary platform. See my track and extracted benches in ArcGIS Online, below; for more on downloading data, see the online help.

Benches extracted by Mapillary's computer vision Mapillary uses computer vision, a form of artificial intelligence, to automatically identify and extract map objects like these benches.

Mapillary is much more than a set of tools–it is a community, with its own MeetUps and ambassadors, and it is an Esri partner. At the time of this writing, over 710 million images have been contributed, covering over 8.6 million kilometers. Currently, the site’s leaderboard shows that the top 50 users have submitted over 1 million images each! I currently have submitted 2,400 images covering 24 km. I have a long way to go: More fieldwork!

For students who become familiar with using Esri’s Web App Builder, you might also encourage them to try the Mapillary Widget, which allows for the viewing of Mapillary street-level images.

I encourage you to use these Mapillary tools to enhance your fieldwork, teach about apps, Web GIS, and crowdsourcing, and to improve the spatial thinking of your students.

/Joseph, Esri Education Manager

Check out Mapillary’s Esri integrations and see how you can use street-level imagery for viewing, creating, and editing GIS data directly across the ArcGIS suite of tools.

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