Frida V. in Beijing and OpenStreetMap's First Leaps in Beijing

By Luka Frelih

About Frida V

Frida V. is a rugged and comfortable bicycle equipped for efficient, safe and enjoyable exploration and mapping of public urban spaces. The optimized-for-bike interface enables easy creation of location-tagged media, automated mapping of open wireless networks and opportunistic synchronisation with a server on the Internet.

The current version of the Frida V. system is based on a consumer available wireless router running Linux and the Arduino micro-controller system. Custom firmwares have been developed for both, integrating them into a seamless interactive device.

Technical requirements:

• needs access to power and open (no password) wireless
• location should be accessible to bicycles to enter from and leave to the street

The project was initiated as a collaboration between Ljudmila and the _V2 Society in 2004. It has since been in development as an open source hardware solution, producing two versions of the system. Among the cities explored so far are Rotterdam, Ljubljana, New York City, Maribor, München, Zagreb, Bergen, San Francisco, Manchester and Beijing. Besides being a tool for individual exploration and mapping of the digital communication landscape, it has also been well received for grass-roots mapping of cities like the community-developed OpenStreetMap project.

Frida's control panel 2006 (cc-by-sa) Luka Frelih

Frida illustration 2004 (cc-by-sa) Ciril Horjak

Frida V. in Beijing
In 2007 Frida was invited to take part in the OrgNets project on counter-mapping the creative industries in Beijing. The new system based on a usb router was used. Aside from some failing batteries and overexposure on the camera it was all working pretty well.

The experience was unforgettable. Riding one of the ‘nine million’ bicycles trough Beijing was eye-opening not just for me, but it seems for all who rode along – hong lai wai, Chinese co-researchers and local Beijingers. We went exploring the huge city grid and countless contrasts lurking inside its cellular structures. On the leather seat of the bike, we glided with, against or across the swaying sea of taxis, tried uncommon paths and serendipitous detours.

The overpowering engagement with the city left little spare attention for the blips of open wireless we stumbled upon on the way. The group ride, where everyone took along cameras (later edited by missumi into a movie), is definitely a model to be used again. Looking at recorded pictures, videos and mapping tracks I can access the buzz and smells of Beijing again. Hopefully some of them shine trough these pages to you too.

I am glad that I was not harassed or arrested for either GPS logging or operating my makeshift electronic device on these travels, as some people have recently been. I even got my bicycle lock back from the land of lost baggage. Lucky, I guess.

The GPS tracks collected with Frida are orange, tracks in OSM are cyan and under them is the OSM map data in this screen capture of the JOSM map editor.

Frida tracks, OSM data, Beijing 2008 (cc-by-sa) Luka Frelih, Frida V. and OpenStreetMap contributors

Beijing, summer 2007, from a bicycle point of view. All 2007 (cc-by-sa) Frida V.

Frida V., Hou Hai lake in google earth
Frida V., bikes, google earth
Frida V., hutong, google earth
Frida V., Beijing grid, google earth

Georeferenced images from Frida V. viewed in Google Earth

All 2008 (cc-by-sa) Luka Frelih, Frida V. and OpenStreetMap contributors and (c) Google et al.

OpenStreetMap's First Leaps in Beijing
The OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative map of the whole world. The data and maps made by the contributors are shared under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. This means anyone is free to print or use them as a base for original mapping without payment, as long as credit is given and the right to reuse is left open.

When I visited last year, the OSM had barely sketched the outlines of Beijing. I hope our two-week effort gave it a bit of a push and publicity in some right circles. In any case, looking at it now it seems to be in excellent shape. The map is growing, free and unauthorized. This huge city will take a lot of work from many people, so this writing intends to document the first steps you will have to take to start contributing.

Sign up with the project:

• Get an account for yourself at
• Set your home location appropriately. lat: 39.9 lon: 116.4
• Get an account for yourself with the wiki (optional)

This easy-to-use flash editor can be accessed from the main OSM map pages anytime by clicking on the edit tab above the map. You have to be logged in to the website to actually use it.

It is very easy to draw linear features like streets, roads and railways, or area features like lakes with it, tracing over the satellite imagery supplied. You will need local knowledge of the area to correctly assign street names and split ways where the name changes. But as these can be added by someone anytime after the initial drawing, feel free to trace the shapes even if you do not know the names.

The more capable editor, JOSM, is a Java application that can be installed on your computer. It works on all platforms. Besides drawing ways over GPS traces, JOSM also supports adding and tagging single points (nodes), needed for marking landmarks or linking to geolocated media. Don't let the look scare you, this is a powerful and versatile mapping tool, developed and optimized by and for the thousands of OSM mappers worldwide. Unfortunately, its site is blocked by the Great Firewall of China. There is a working mirror in the UK: Larted JOSM mirror where you can download it from.

Images - OpenStreetMaps of Beijing
OpenStreetMap - no. 1
OpenStreetMap - no. 2
OpenStreetMap - no. 3
Editing the OSM with Potlatch

All 2008 (cc-by-sa) OpenStreetMap contributors

Luka Frelih is an artist working with computers and networks, a computer programmer, free software hacker and web designer. He is a core member of Ljudmila – Ljubljana Digital Media Lab since its founding in 1994.