GPS traces of Manhattan and surroundings

GPS traces of Manhattan and surroundings

Yay, my first kickstarter project.

For a long time I’ve wanted to expand on a project I did with Tom Carden in 2005. We took GPS traces of London and plotted them in a simple black-on-white scheme on A0 paper (about 3 feet by 2 feet). Bit rot has not destroyed all of the old wiki page or boing boing post about it.

Back then GPS was a rarity. Today it’s everywhere. We were able only to do London and for various logistical reasons limited to 100 prints which were posted to all corners of the Earth. What I’m able to do here is much more expansive – the United States plus a large chunk of Europe.

Large format prints of SF, Chicago and NYC

Large format prints of SF, Chicago and NYC

Each black line represents one GPS trace and I layer many on to a sheet of paper which highlights where people actually go as contrasted with a traditional maps which show every possible place where you can go. Because of the small inherent GPS inaccuracy of each individual trace, roads with a lot of traffic become thicker and bolder. Personally, I find these to be beautiful artifacts somewhere in between art, technology and social science.

Another wonderful thing is that they work fractally (across scales). From across a room there is a recognizable depth to them which speaks to the city they represent. Up close, you can see individual GPS trails and appreciate the detail. Either far or near you get sucked in to something which crystalizes the movement of a city in to something finite and appreciable.

A slightly blurry close up of SF

A slightly blurry close up of SF

A lot of work has gone in to these, to be expanded upon in a future post. Writing the software to produce them was, as ever, interesting but the smallest part. The final product contains many elements: printing, printers, inks, papers, rasterization, shipping, poster tubes, packaging, marketing, customer acquisition. In some ways this project has taken 7 years to put together, in some maybe 6 months.

I don’t expect to break the bank selling posters. I’m doing this because it just feels like someone needs to make this kind of art much more available. I don’t think Tom & I were the first to do this (projects date from at least 2003) and this won’t be the last.

It definitely will be fun, so join in over at kickstarter.