HeiGIT’s 5 Years Milestone: Looking Back at our Achievements

HeiGIT is celebrating its fifth anniversary today, July 1st! To commemorate this occasion, we invite you to join us on a little walk down memory lane. As we reflect on our achievements and the milestones we have reached, we want to express our deepest gratitude to the partners, projects and people that have made our journey possible.

HeiGIT was officially founded in 2019, but its roots trace back to a project initiated by Heidelberg University in July 2016, aimed at establishing the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology. Since its inception, the project has received core funding from the Klaus Tschira Stiftung, with the goal of translating fundamental geoinformatics research into practical applications. During the foundational period (2016-2019), HeiGIT began engaging in projects and partnerships that would set the stage for future endeavors. From the outset, we have closely cooperated with the GIScience Research Group Heidelberg, bridging the gap between fundamental research and the real-world problems, and collaborating on various projects with shared contributions from both teams.

Our mission to support humanitarian causes, close data gaps, and distribute freely accessible information was evident from the start. In 2017, HeiGIT/GIScience formed a long-standing partnership with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), collaborating on projects such as the MapSwipe app, MapSwipe analytics, a new version of the Disaster Openrouteservice and the ohsome (OpenStreetMap History Analytics) platform. In 2018, we launched OSMlanduse.org, a platform hosting a conterminous land use dataset, that merges data from OpenStreetMap and satellite remote sensing. That same year, we celebrated 10 years of openrouteservice(ORS), a cornerstone of our smart mobility team. A partnership between the ORS-team at the time and the Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie; BKG) was firstly documented 2017. Our smart mobility team continues to develop ORS extensions in collaboration with the BKG to this day.

In 2019, HeiGIT was officially established with three focus areas: big spatial data analytics, smart mobility, and geoinformation for humanitarian aid. Projects like MeinGrün and TARDUR extended openrouteservice, while other projects such as Waterproofing Data, IDEAL-VGI and DEEP-VGI made use of the ohsome API for data analyses. We also advanced our goal of knowledge transfer by hosting the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team annual Summit (HOT Summit 2019) and the annual international gathering of the OSM community, the State of the Map 2019 conference. Our collaboration with the German Red Cross, which began in 2019, marked a significant step in supporting humanitarian work.

In 2020, despite the global challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, HeiGIT continued to grow and advance our humanitarian and scientific goals. In consequence of the pandemic, HeiGIT and the University Hospital Heidelberg have developed the Map of Hope, a COVID-19-research-map to make pandemic information widely accessible. Throughout the year, we have also hosted several “Missing Maps”-Mapathons. During these events, volunteers can support humanitarian causes by gathering and documenting Geodata. In late year, HeiGIT officially became a partner of the Anticipation Hub, a platform for knowledge exchange on anticipatory action in humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction. This collaboration enhanced our focus on forecast-based financing (FbF) in order to support tasks like local data collection, historical impact and risk assessment, and trigger development. Similar initiatives followed in 2021 with an ORS instance focused on vaccination centers, further development of mapping activities, and collaboration with the humanitarian geospatial charity MapAction.

During the following years, HeiGIT continued to advance projects and improve services. In 2022, the Smart Mobility team has developed the HeiGIT Disaster Portal, enabling humanitarian aid organizations to plan operations and adapt to local conditions reliably. In 2023, we officially launched the Sketch Map Tool, a community mapping tool for collecting local spatial knowledge crucial for disaster preparedness and response. The ohsome quality API (OQAPI), a tool for data quality examination in context of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), was introduced the same year. We also implemented the Climate Action Platform to engage with climate change issues, and launched the UndercoverEisAgenten App for documenting permafrost thawing.

This brief summary of the history of HeiGIT is by no means a complete documentation of all our projects, partners, services and applications. It shall much rather serve as a little overview on how “our founding principle—translating knowledge and technology from fundamental geoinformatics research into practical applications—continues to guide our efforts to this day”, as HeiGIT’s Scientific And Managing Director Alexander Zipf acknowledges. He further emphazises that “all these achievements would not be possible without our exceptional team, who continue to shape research and innovation in alignment with our vision and mission. It is an honor to be surrounded by so many motivated individuals who have chosen to be part of HeiGIT and who share our values of open geoinformation and data.”

Finally, we extend heartfelt thanks the Klaus Tschira Stiftung for their continued support in facilitating our vision of a better society and environment by improving open geoinformation and geoinformation technology, especially in the domains of humanitarian aid an climate action.

Some impressions from our five-years-anniversary celebration: