When I first spoke with David Lang, CEO of OpenROV, about his vision for OpenExplorer, I never expected that that it would end up being National Geographic's main tool for documenting global expeditions and engaging explorers.

When David first told me about his vision for OpenExplorer, we were sitting in OpenROV’s first office in Berkeley, and he explained a digital field journal, a storytelling device via a geographically based map that crowdsourced expeditions from adventurers and citizens around the world. I lit up immediately and said, “That sounds an awful lot like Ushahidi! We would love to help you make this happen.” A few weeks later, David, Eric, and I were in front of a whiteboard and they were mapping out their vision. They told me about their dream to find lost treasure in the underwater Hall City cave (where legend had it that Native Americans stole about 100 nuggets of gold from wealthy miners and hid it in there). And then how they built the first OpenROV to explore the cave, designed their route, packed their equipment, and then embarked on their research expedition. David late shared this story on the TED stage.

The first whiteboard prototypes helped us to visualize the product, inspired by the crowdsourcing components of Kickstarter and Ushahidi platforms.

OpenROV contracted Ushahidi’s Enterprise team to build OpenExplorer on top of our technology. We set to work. In August 2014, we launched OpenExplorer. OpenExplorer allowed citizens, scientists, and adventurers to document and chart their expeditions in real time. The public could therefore easily follow along on their adventures through pictures, videos, and stories across a map and timeline.

Come November I had the joy of using the tool myself to chart our BRCK Expedition down the Nile. I loved being a UX tester and providing feedback on this platform that we had helped to fruition. On that expedition we took the early prototypes of BRCK and the OpenROV in our old Land Rover Defender, driving from Nairobi to Jinja, Uganda on Lake Victoria in the middle of a crazy rain storm, only to have our wipers stop working somewhere past the border. We headed out onto Lake Victoria the next day and dispatched the OpenROV in Lake Victoria, using BRCK to be able to direct it and live stream in real time.

In 2015, after we had completed our contract and handed off the project to OpenROV. Our lead designer wrote a blog post outlining the design process we went through together. He explained how Ushahidi’s Enterprise team helped OpenROV realize their vision: “The Enterprise team advised OpenROV on what was possible and what users would find compelling...This collaboration resulted in a platform which users love and better community engagement for OpenROV.”  

OpenExplorer gave OpenROV a viral tool to engage communities of explorers and allow citizen scientists to share their stories. This is analogous to the global use of Ushahidi’s platform to gather testimonies and help people raise their voice for human rights, election transparency, and crisis response. Using the Ushahidi API, OpenROV used geographic data to tell captivating stories about citizen science and exploration. We utilize our in-house expertise at Ushahidi to provide value add services such as human centered design thinking, targeted training, technical assistance and programmatic support in order to make our product beneficial to the missions of organizations of all sizes around the world.

Last week OpenROV made an incredible announcement: National Geographic, the gold standard for exploration, is taking over OpenExplorer.

This is a special moment for me personally. In 1927, N.C. Wyeth painted the “Romance of Discovery” murals, two maps of the world, at the National Geographic HQ in DC. National Geographic sent out two prints of these illustrative murals in their magazine that year, and those original prints have been hanging over my desk for the past twenty years.

N.C. Wyeth was my childhood hero, bringing to life all aspects of adventure and exploration in his illustrations of Robin Hood, Treasure Island, and King Arthur. Those pictures remind me daily of the importance of exploration, and were inspirations as we built OpenExplorer, the 21st century version of this artwork.

Ushahidi is proud to have been a part of this project. In it’s new home, OpenExplorer will power and highlight more explorations with a greater reach. What started as a spontaneous brainstorm will now inspire and captivate National Geographic’s global community for years to come. This is the type of great work that our organization stands behind, and a wonderful example of our how our services and software can enable incredible outcomes for partners and clients.

Congratulations OpenROV and National Geographic! See you out there for the next adventure!