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FOSS4G 2018 in Dar Es Salaam

Last month I spent a week in Dar Es Salaam at FOSS4G 2018, incorporating the HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team) Summit. It was one of an increasing number of occasions where I find my Astun Technology and MapAction roles overlapping, and made more enjoyable by being able to spend some of the time with colleagues from both organisations.

This was my fourth FOSS4G, and was a very different experience to the first three. Tanzania is the second African country to have hosted FOSS4G after South Africa, and so nationals of African countries made up a significant proportion of the delegates, most of whom, judging from those I spoke to, were attending for the first time. Their travel experiences were also a little different to mine - one delegate told me she had travelled for two days on a bus from northern Tanzania with no overnight stop, putting into perspective gripes from those of us flying in about stopovers and connections. The age and gender demographic was also significantly different - it was refreshing to see so many young people, and so many women among the delegates, and also to see this reflected in the choice of keynote speakers, all of whom were women. This report from a delegate from Lesotho, partly funded by the fantastic FOSS4G Travel Grant programme, gives a flavour of the kind of impact the conference had. Of course 'the usual suspects' were also there in force - they are the backbone of FOSS4G and it's always good to see, and listen to, the familiar faces who are behind many of the applications we use every day.

There was a strong emphasis on humanitarian issues, particularly on the HOT track. My MapAction colleague Steve Penson covers this well in an excellent blog post on some of the work HOT is doing in Tanzania - it's pragmatic, large-scale, and genuinely innovative, involving hundreds of communities and university students in Dar Es Salaam.

Other than that, a few things caught my eye/ear: 
  • A new version of QField, a version of QGIS optimised for use on Android tablets and particularly for field data collection, is coming soon, with better synchronisation with a QGIS project (using a plugin), improved forms, and integration with mobile device sensors. QField is largely developed by, and they would welcome contributions of any kind.
  • Coming at field data collection from the other direction (and maybe meeting in the middle?) is continuing development of ODK (OpenDataKit) and its branded version KoBo Toolbox, the 'go to' data collection app in the humanitarian world. The geo capabilities of ODK in particular are developing fast, improving the ability of users to collect accurate and relevant location data in the field.
  • A team from Heidelberg University gave a great presentation on OpenRouteService, which uses (of course) OpenStreetMap as the basis for a routing UI and a series of APIs. It's still relatively new, but it gave me a pretty good bike route from my house into Bristol, and the APIs include isochrones and geocoding, so it's one to watch.
  • Drones were everywhere, including in Zanzibar where the entire island has been captured by fixed-wing drones using football pitches as airstrips, and and the associated among the tools on show.
With over 1,000 delegates, FOSS4G is going from strength to strength, and there's no doubt that the enthusiasm of Mark Iliffe and the Dar Es Salaam LOC is going to be carried forward by Vasile Crăciunescu and the Romanian team for FOSS4G 2019 in Bucharest - the website is up, the venues are booked, all that remains is for you to be there!


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