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)

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