Opensourcing ourselves

by Dave Barter on

As a business we have an informal social charter that drives us to do "good" wherever we can. This leaks into all areas of our operation, driving our customer support, pricing and general approach to the way that we work. All of us in Nautoguide have experienced some of the minor evils that often arise in the corporate environment and as a result we remain determined to avoid them. I know we're not the only company that think this way, it's becoming another disruption as SMEs and startups buck the drive towards avarice and attempt to act at work as we would in our homes.

In 2018 we decided to take our social charter a step further and actively contribute to the society from which  we benefit. As software engineers it was tempting to dive down the avenue of open source, make something for free and let others use it without any form of restriction. But everyone is open sourcing software, why not open source ourselves! We felt it was time to help out in an area that  could immediately benefit from our work. But who? We make interactive maps, which deserving cause could derive immediate benefit from our services? Only way to find out was to ask. By co-incidence it was Small Charity week and so we went looking for a small charity that we could help with our technology.

Via Twitter we put out an appeal for any charity in need of a digital map. We'd pick our favourite cause and work with them closely to see if we could create them something worthwhile, for free. It wasn't long before we had a good set of worthy candidates, from rights of way management to endangered species protection. However, one applicant stood out, mainly down to the name which intrigued us from the outset.

Penny Brohn  was diagnosed with cancer in 1979. As part of her treatment she realised that recovery required more than just medication and set out to build an organisation focused upon care for the whole being - mind, body, spirit and emotions. Her efforts resulted in the Bristol Cancer Care Centre a beautiful location surrounded by peaceful uplifting curated gardens. The charity is now known as  Penny Brohn UK and they asked us whether we could build an interactive map to act as a guide to their Bristol cancer care centre.

We were happy to oblige and after a visit to the Bristol centre we became immersed in the creation of a set of virtual tours around the grounds, each separately themed and focused. This allows users to view the grounds via  a series of different aspects; potential for therapy,  history, plant life and wildlife. We created a set of admin tools handing content control to the Penny Brohn staff and built our site to sit comfortably within an iframe embedded within their main website.

A volunteer provided digital imagery via a drone overfly of the Bristol grounds. We took this imagery and added spatial encoding allowing it to be used as the basemap for these virtual tours. The project came together over a few months prior to Christmas the two teams knitted together by a mixture of Slack and a willingness to do something cool. And in January 2019 we switched the map on ready for the first set of virtual visitors.  

You can see it here

We're immensely proud of our work with Penny Brohn on a number of levels. Clearly it feels good to do something for emotional rather than pecuniary reward. Equally we're proud that we've been able to take time out from the maelstrom of trying to survive as an SME and allowed our staff to work without restriction on a project devoid of fees. It's become part of our process as an ever evolving business and in 2019 we'll be putting out a new appeal during Small Charity week. Who knows what we will be working on next?

Opensourcing ourselves

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