A new project collects letters made by buildings, trees and water to form a complete typeface. Datasets from the Aerial Bold Kickstarter

Aerial Bold aims to develop an alphabet out of aerial maps.

My colleague Tanya Basu alerted me to a new Kickstarter campaign combining two of my favorite things: maps and letters. As far grand typeface ideas go, this one is up there.

Aerial Bold aims find every letter of the English alphabet in shapes made by buildings, roads, and natural and artificial bodies of water. But in order to do this, the project's leaders have to "read" the earth's surface first.

The idea springs from a previous project in which Joey Lee and Benedikt Groß—Aerial Bold's two lead designers—mapped all the swimming pools in L.A.

"We wanted to give something back that we're all familiar with," Lee says."What better than the iconic alphabet?"

Why are these guys asking for 10 grand? For one thing, developing a typeface is apparently quite expensive. And though Google Maps, Google Images, and OpenStreetMaps have mapped a lot of the earth's surface, there are layers of information that need to be uncovered for this project to work—and that requires time and expertise.

"Unless there are additional datasets that annotate the imagery, there's no way of knowing that the square feature is a building or a car," Lee explains. "Imagery is imagery, but it takes our culture and language to embed meaning into those images."

So the "two-man army" is trying to raise funds to get all the cool, computer-y stuff and people to run algorithms that search satellite images for alphabet-shaped topography. Because we're way beyond Helvetica now.

An aerial image with a building in the shape of letter "A." (Aerial Bold Kickstarter)
Simplification process to break down the different topographical features so a computer can recognize it. (Aerial Bold Kickstarter)
A computer separates the buildings (in red) and natural topography (in black). (Aerial Bold Kickstarter)
Overlaying datasets then help find the alphabets. (Aerial Bold Kickstarter)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

  2. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  3. A photo of an abandoned building in Newark, New Jersey.

    The 10 Cities Getting a Philanthropic Boost for Economic Mobility

    An initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group focuses on building “pipelines of opportunity.”

  4. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

  5. Equity

    Why I Found My Community in a Starbucks

    I was reluctant to support a corporate chain. But in my neighborhood, it’s one of the only places I could have formed a relationship with someone like Sammy.