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. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  2. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  3. Transportation

    Will Ottawa Ever Get Its Light Rail?

    Sinkholes, winter-weary trains, and political upheaval have held the Confederation Line light-rail transit back from a seriously overdue opening.

  4. Maria Romano stands behind one of her three children, Jennifer, 10, as she gets something to eat in their Harlem apartment in New York Thursday, June 3, 2005

    Why HUD Wants to Restrict Assistance for Immigrants

    A proposal by Ben Carson’s agency would eject immigrant families from public housing to make way for the "most vulnerable." Housing advocates aren't buying it.

  5. Transportation

    Electric Scooters Aren’t a Transportation Revolution Yet

    New data show a staggering rise in shared dockless e-scooter use nationwide. But commuting habits have seen little change since the dawn of micromobility.