In Somerville, Massachusetts, Public Lab, a nonprofit that helps individuals and communities use low-cost technology to learn about their local environments, is bringing the cost aerial photography down. How? By attaching a lightweight digital camera to a kite, specifically the squid kite. The squid kite is part of a kit, offered by Public Lab, that let’s you start capturing aerial photographs on a budget.
It’s a perfect July evening in Somerville, Massachusetts, a small crowd has gathered, and Jeffrey Warren’s squid just won’t get airborne. He tosses it into the air over and over again, waiting for a gust of wind. He tries launching it off the ramparts of the stone tower that sits at the crown of Prospect Hill. He runs it across the grass of the park that stretches out beneath. But each time the wind puffs half-heartedly and dies, and the squid—bright pink, with eight fluttering tentacles and two cartoony eyes—crumples to the ground.
You never need a reason to fly a kite. Nevertheless, Warren and his companions have one: They’re testing an improved version of an old invention, an aerial rig that will let them fly a camera up with the kite and take pictures from the sky (with a method cheaper, more widely available, and less intrusive than drones).
The squid kite is part of a new kit made by Public Lab, a nonprofit that helps individuals and communities use low-cost technology to learn about their local environments. (Warren is Public Lab’s cofounder and research coordinator.) What the Prospect Hill group learns tonight will help them make aerial photography easier for others—provided they can get anything in the air at all.