Planet imagery of snowy Boston, captured in winter 2016. © 2016, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

We came, we saw, we took notes: Planet at FOSS4G 2017


Planeteers from our Mosaicking, API, and Product teams flew to Boston to attend FOSS4G 2017, splitting up to attend as many talks as we could. We teamed up afterward for a quick chat about what talks stuck with us. 

Here are our highlights:    

Markus Mueller and Michael Weisman: An Update on Proj4
We enjoyed a talk by Howard Butler that reviewed the history of the proj4 library—probably the most fundamental geospatial FOSS library. Butler focused on where proj4 came from and why we’re so dependent on this ancient library.

It helped explain some of the quirks of proj4, highlighting the fact that there is no existing automated test suite for it. Butler also got us thinking about the existing pathways (or lack thereof) to modernizing the library.

Markus Mueller: FAKE MAPS, very dishonest

Steven Feldman’s “FAKE MAPS, very dishonest” chat was really entertaining. I’d say it was the most fun talk for me at the whole conference. Once you get past the obvious reference to current US politics, it was interesting to see how different map projections can distort reality.

mercator projection map

The Mercator Projection, a cylindrical map projection that we all used as school children, does not accurately represent the size of Earth’s continents relative to each other. Image: Wikimedia Commons</font size=”-1″>
gall-peters projection map

The Gall-Peters projection is an equal-area projection that maps Earth’s landmasses relative to each other in size. Note how much larger Africa is in this projection. Image: Wikimedia Commons</font size=”-1″>
Tim Schaub: An Update on Noise Library
Volker Mische’s talk on Noise was one of the more interesting sessions I attended, particularly because it included a lengthy live demo component. If you want to give it a go on your own, you can try out Noise online.

Another highlight was seeing Planet Explorer used to validate active illegal forestry operations in Luiz Motta’s talk. It dives into a Polygon aggregator for long time series of Amazon deforestation satellite data. It’s always interesting to see your work put to use in the real world.

Kevin Wurster: Using PgRouting for Infrastructure Planning
One that stuck with me was Saul Farber’s presentation: “Energy Delivery Expansion Planning through pgRouting”. It was an interesting look at one gas company’s foray into GIS tech by engaging with PeopleGIS—a third party GIS specialist. The utility company paid PeopleGIS to develop a tool that determines the best route for connecting a new house to existing gas infrastructure. A project like this, if developed in house, could be buried in project managers, enterprise software subscriptions, and on-the-ground surveying. But this third party GIS company was able to produce good results with some simple thematic layers and pgRouting.

Ian Hansen: The State of JTS
The State of JTS talk was a great opportunity to meet the people breathing new life into the project with a new repository location, license, and push for a 2.0 release. JTS is a foundation of almost every geo-related software through its re-implementations in C. It was interesting to hear the history of JTS and the vision for the future.

And introducing…Sarah Safavi, our newest Planeteer

Last but not least, we’re proud of our own Sara Safavi, winner of this year’s “Most Innovative Developer” award. We enjoyed watching her participate in a panel discussion: What the Heck Does an Open Source Job Look Like Anyway, along with peers from Boundless, Azavea, University of Colorado Denver, Cadasta, and Bird’s Eye View GIS.


Videos and slides are in the process of being uploaded the FOSS4G 2017 site. Dig into some of these presentations and find your own favorites. And if you’re interested in helping us bring global, daily satellite imagery to the web, join our growing team.