A Search Engine for Satellite Imagery

Margherita Olivo
June 2nd 2016

Terrapattern is a new search engine that allows users to seek out similar-looking locations from aerial perspective and finds connections between different landscapes and human-built environments. Its potential is very wide, it is a powerful tool for everyone, from researchers to designers or artists. The concept is simple, you click on a single place on the map, like a tennis court or a pool, then the search engine works its magic. A clever algorithm ties together similar shapes of different colors and shapes, giving the user a unique selection of similar environments.

roads gathered with terrapattern

Terrapattern is only in a beta version now, but it already works remarkably well. It will inspire more personal questions and insights, changing our comprehension of the landscape. “We built Terrapattern to allow people to search the world according to how they see it” said Golan Levin, an associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, creator of this project. “But it also puts them in dialogue with the landscape as seen by machines. And that’s just a very uncanny experience”.

terrapattern search engine

"For our purposes ‘interesting’ features are anthropogenic or natural phenomena that are not only socially or scientifically meaningful, but also visually distinctive—thus lending themselves ideally to machine recognition" the creators explain. "Examples could include things like animal herds, methane blowholes, factories, destroyed homes, or logging roads. Many other patterns await discovery".

terrapattern search engine

This search engine takes data from OpenStreetMap, researchers can use it to monitor natural habitats or to make archaeological finds, but this tool can also be used to create art or just to have a better understanding of the human footprint on this planet. Terrapattern’s designers are indeed excited for more peculiar and unexpected uses: “Terrapattern is ideal for discovering, locating and labeling typologies that aren’t customarily indicated on maps. These might include ephemeral or temporally-contingent features (such as vehicles or construction sites), or the sorts of banal infrastructure (like fracking wells or smokestacks) that only appear on specialist blueprints, if they appear at all”.

terrapattern search engine

Source and Images: Terrapattern

 

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