HAVANA, Jan. 25th This week, while much of the world was paying attention to the inauguration of Joe Biden and his first actions as president of the United States, Read more
HAVANA, Jan. 18th A 1950s highway, bleached to sepia by the Caribbean sun, leads from Cuba’s Santa María beaches through palm and hibiscus. Read more
HAVANA, Nov. 16th Maria del Carmen Kouw learned to speak Cantonese by watching martial arts movies when she was a child and went with her parents to film premieres in one of Havana’s four Chinese-run movie theatres.
HAVANA, Aug. 28th The Cuban capital of Havana would introduce a curfew from September 1 to September 15 over the deteriorating COVID-19 epidemiological situation, Read more
HAVANA, July 3rd (Reuters) – The Cuban capital stirred to life on Friday after more than three months of lockdown but there were no signs of tourists on Havana’s quiet streets while residents fretted over shortages of food and other basic goods. Read more
HAVANA, Nov. 10th Alaska Airlines on Tuesday said it would discontinue a daily flight between Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba, after Jan. 22, Read more
HAVANA, Aug. 29th The city of Vienna, capital of Austria, donated 10 urban solid waste collection trucks to Havana, the island’s media reported.
HAVANA, Aug 6 The Cuban Ministry of Transportation (Mitrans) has raised the rates of aeronautical services in
HAVANA, Feb. 10th A quinceañera, or quince, is a lavish celebration held on a Latin American girl’s 15th birthday that marks her transition into womanhood. Read more
HAVANA, Jan. 30th A replica of the bicentennial bar and Cuban restaurant “El Floridita” will open its doors in Mexico in the first half of the year, following the signing this Monday in Havana of a contract that grants the first franchise to Read more
HAVANA, Jan 26th Just as the sun creeps up over the Havana skyline on the 165th anniversary of José Martí’s birth on Sunday, a replica of a statue that sits in Central Park will be officially inaugurated in the Cuban capital.
HAVANA, Jan 12th Regional carrier, Caribbean Airlines (CAL) started flying to Havana, Cuba on Friday.
The announcement was made on Thursday by Finance Minister Colm Imbert during a post-Cabinet news conference .
According to Imbert, the service would operate twice Read more
HAVANA , Oct 23th (Reuters) At dusk, when the worst of the Caribbean heat has subsided, parks around Cuba fill with families video chatting with loved ones abroad or scrolling through social media, their animated faces lit by telephone Read more
HAVANA, August 30th In the bright, worn streets of a tourist-filled Old Havana, a furry canine laid seemingly lifeless on the cobblestone ground.
As I walked closer to see if it was still breathing, the dog perked its head up before collapsing again under the blazing sun. In Cuba, there are growing Read more
HAVANA, June 21th (By Joann Biondi) It’s not easy being a cat in Cuba.
There’s no flea medicine, no cat litter and no catnip. Historically, they’ve been relegated to second-class status after dogs. During the “special period” of the early 90s when food was scarce following the breakup of the Soviet Read more
HAVANA, June 9th With the arrival of its first flight ever from Paris to Havana this Thursday, June 8, the French airline Corsair, opened a new route into the Caribbean.
Twice a week, Thursdays and Saturdays, aircrafts of Corsair will land in Havana, with plans to expand the frequency, according Read more
HAVANA, March 1th There is a race within the race that marks the return this week of the St. Petersburg-Habana regatta.
It will determine who makes history by becoming the first Cuban-born captain in more than five decades to Read more
HAVANA, Feb. 18th Smoke rises overhead, the plumes from marinated chicken sizzling on a blackened grill. A group of teenaged boys torments girls passing by, and a life-sized Read more
HAVANA,Feb. 8th Since 2015, when former President Barack Obama asked Congress to lift the nearly 60-year-long trade and financial embargo with Cuba, the tropical Caribbean island has been on the top of everyone’s list of must-see Read more
HAVANA, Jan. 20th Sailing teams racing monohulls and multihulls are to compete in races from the Florida Keys to two Cuban cities during the 13-day Conch Republic Cup. The event, also known as Key West Cuba Race Week, starts Read more
HAVANA, Jan. 12th Latin music star Enrique Iglesias is in Havana, Cuba filming his new music video for his single “Súbeme la Radio”. The 41-year-old singer shared the news in an Instagram video posted Tuesday as he prepared to fly Read more
HAVANA, Nov. 17th A record number of runners have registered for this year’s Havana International Marathon, Read more
Against the odds, a group of Cuban enthusiasts have joined forces to keep their 1950s two-stroke DKWs and Auto Unions on the road
HAVANA,Nov. 11th (David Lillywhite) We know Read more
By crowdsourcing more than 65,000 photos, Mapillary and a team of Cuban mapmakers are creating the first “street views” of Havana.
HAVANA, Oct. 27th Try dropping Pegman onto Havana on Google Maps, and the most you’ll see is a sparse collection of panoramic photos taken at a few intersections and town squares around the Cuban city—all uploaded by contributors. The company has yet to send its fleet of Street View cars to the once isolated country—and between legal and security concerns, Google hasn’t publicly mentioned any plans to to do so. (The company has not responded to a request for comment.)
But rather than waiting on Google, members of a local Open Street Map community have been working with the Sweden-based company Mapillary to create their own 3D map of Old Havana. The effort kicked off in September when Claudio Cossio, the head of Mapillary’s Latin American user growth, flew from Mexico to Cuba for a six-day mapping marathon.
The dozen local mappers who participated took GoPros and their own Android phones to the streets, mapping the city by car, by bike—and where vehicles aren’t allowed, on foot.
“In the tech area, people aren’t waiting.”
So far, they have more than 65,000 street-level photos (and counting) covering nearly 200 square miles of Cuba’s capital city. They’ve mapped Old Havana proper, as well as parts of the city center, the main public transit routes, and the main highway that wraps around Havana. The photos are stored on SD cards and sent via post to Mexico, where Cossio uploads them to the company’s server.
The photos are then analyzed and stitched together by Mapillary’s team of developers. “We first blur faces and license plates, and then we start a serious extraction of info,” says the company CEO Jan Erik Solem, speaking from the CityLab 2016 conference in Miami where he’s showing off the technology. “The first [extraction] is traffic-sign recognition [to do] 3D reconstruction. Based on the things we detect, we can actually position these objects on the map with real 3D coordinates.” The algorithm can also detect which objects in the photos are streets or sidewalks.
The result so far look similar to Google Street View, with arrows on the ground that guide you on a virtual stroll along the roads:
According to Cossio, maps of Havana haven’t been updated since the Cuban revolution. Even Google can only provide a satellite map of the city, with scant information about what sits on each road. That’s a problem not just for travelers, but for locals. “The references of all the buildings and what they’re used for have not been updated since 1955,” he says. “So they’re lacking all this information that is basic for any of their citizens.
It’s a fitting project for Mapillary, one of Google’s many up-and-coming competitors in the digital mapping market. The company hopes to become an alternative to Google Street View, reaching areas that the tech giant has yet to explore. Instead of sending out a fancy fleets of souped-up cars or working directly with government agencies, however, Mapillary builds its maps by crowdsourcing photos from local mapmaking communities. For the most part, the company takes a “bottom-up” approach, says Solem.
He and Cossio envision the final product for this project to be integrated into useful apps that will help locals look up public transit information or help aid workers direct efforts to areas that need them most. Soon, says Solem, the technology might also help local governments automatically detect potholes and other areas that need repairs. “We’re a source for imagery and data,” he adds. “What they do with it is really up to them.”
Mappers are still collecting photos from Havana, and Mapillary is starting to map the Isle of Youth, to the south of the city, as well as an underwater archaeological site nearby.
The project comes at a time when the Cuban government faces growing pressure to expand internet access in one of the least-connected countries in the world. The government has installed hundreds of public wifi hotspots across the island since 2015, but still only about 5 to 26 percent of households have internet access today (and it is costly and heavily censored). Of the roughly 2 million people who own mobile phones, very few have data plans.
And despite a growing entrepreneurial and tech community, authorities still haven’t quite warmed up to the idea of crowdsourcing and open data. Both remain legal gray areas. While photographing the streets, for example, local mappers tried to stay low-key, keeping cameras inside cars and making sure not to enter any restricted areas.
“Things are changing, but at the same time there’s a lot of nervousness and guardedness” from the government, says Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York, who has studied the internet and entrepreneurship in Cuba. Projects that aren’t done in collaboration with authorities may be viewed with suspicion. And the topic of maps is a particularly sensitive one that is regarded as a national security issue.
”In the tech area, people aren’t waiting,” he adds.“They’re doing stuff that they don’t think is threatening, or even political, and people are very careful.” The general rule of thumb: Push the limits, but don’t stand out too much.
For local Cuban mappers, documenting their city is worth the risk. “One of their [main goals] was to have at least 80 to 90 percent of Old Havana mapped,” Cossio says. “They’re interested in the history, and in leaving a trace of how it was and how it’s changing today—what nobody is recording.”
HAVANA, Oct. 18th (Reuters) Havana’s city government has temporarily suspended issuing licenses for new private restaurants in the city and warned existing ones to obey tough regulations, according to several owners of the businesses popular with foreign tourists. Read more
HAVANA, Sept. 27th Mapping experts and local volunteers fanned out across Havana recently, recording ground-level images of cobbled streets, major thoroughfares, bus routes and plazas in the Cuban capital to create navigable, street-level 3-D photo maps.
From early Thursday until Sunday, the group walked, drove and bicycled around Havana, using selfie sticks, smartphones and action cameras to record as many images as possible of the city’s 280-square-mile area.
Among the landmarks that were mapped were the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral of Havana, part of the Colon Cemetery, the Plaza of the Revolution, El Morro fortress and Estadio Latinoamericano.
Then using an application developed by Mapillary, a company based in Malmo, Sweden, the images were uploaded and stitched together by machine-vision technology to create 3-D ground-level maps that show the city in remarkable detail and are available to the public for free.
“We use a little bit of magic to transition nicely from image to image,” said Jan Erik Solem, Mapillary’s founder. He previously launched Polar Rose, a facial recognition software company that Apple acquired in 2010.
The mapping team, which included a Mexico-based Mapillary executive and 11 members of Cuba’s open street map community, recorded 140 gigabytes of data. Mapillary began uploading the Cuban images to its site Monday.
Solem said the photo maps will always be available to individuals for free. The company makes its money by selling the information to mapping companies and other commercial entities, which also are asked to contribute to the platform.
On foot and using a car and two motorcycles, the mappers covered more than 217 miles. During the four days, they managed to photograph about 60 percent of Cuban public transit routes, about 90 percent of Old Havana, parts of Miramar and Vedado, and the primer anillo — the highway around Havana.
They also ventured outside the city recording footage at the Church of San Lazaro in El Rincon and Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, which is about 10 miles east of Havana in the town of San Francisco de Paula.
THE MAPILLARY PLATFORM ALLOWS USERS TO SEE LANDSCAPES CHANGE IN REAL TIME
The Mapillary platform allows users to see landscapes change in real time. Because of Cuba’s spotty internet connectivity, the team took most of the photos that were captured in Cuba to Mexico to complete the process.
Some areas where Mapillary took pictures required permits and fees like El Morro, but for the most part, the volunteers captured images in public places that required no special permission, said Claudio Cossio, Mapillary’s Mexico-based head of Latin American user growth. He was part of the Havana mapping team.
The mappers were a bit apprehensive about how the project would be received. “Open data isn’t currently legislated in Cuba. It’s kind of a gray area,” Cossio said Monday after returning to Mexico.
“Crowd-sourcing is not well-known in Cuba, so we wanted to tread lightly because some government organizations might not be in favor of this type of initiative,” he said. “We didn’t run into any problems.”
Although some of the mappers were using 360-degree cameras, they tried not to call attention to themselves. Instead of mounting cameras on the roof of the car, for example, all the images were recorded from inside the vehicle. And the citizen mappers were told not to do anything illegal, not to take pictures in restricted national security areas and to respect people’s privacy.
Before images are released to the public, faces and any visible license plates are blurred.
Cossio said the last time the cartography of Havana was updated was 1955. “Or if it has been updated, citizens haven’t had access to it,” he said. The hope is the Havana project will kick-start mapping in Cuba and it will spread to cities throughout the island, Cossio said.
Mapillary left some of its equipment in Cuba so the volunteer mappers could continue capturing images; the company hopes to return to the island next year.
Cuba’s open street map community did some preliminary mapping near Havana’s Cerro neighborhood before the project began, although it didn’t use a 360-degree camera like those employed in mapping exercises in Sweden and for some of the recent Cuban mapping.
Mapillary hopes the maps it produces will be useful to the Havana government as well as to Cuban entrepreneurs and other individuals.
“The tech community in Cuba is centered on tourism and in tourism maps play a big role,” he said. There are already several tourism and dining apps that have been created by Cuban entrepreneurs.
“Mapillary is also free for this type of work,” Solem said.
The company says beginning to map is easy and anyone can do it. It requires little more than a smartphone, although some users prefer more sophisticated cameras.
Users download the app, create an account on mapillary.com and begin taking photos. Users can take pictures themselves or use an automatic mode that allows the app to take photos at regular intervals and review their pictures before uploading them.
A father and son team, for example, made significant progress mapping the remote Faroe Islands, which are about halfway between Norway and Iceland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, during their summer vacation using three simple cameras and a smartphone.
After Faroe Islanders petitioned rival Google Street View to come and map the islands, Google arrived on Aug. 31 to begin mapping with cameras mounted on bikes, backpacks, ships, a wheelbarrow and even the backs of sheep. Some 70,000 sheep live on the islands, more than the entire population.
Google Street View’s global reach is far greater than Mapillary’s, but Solem said the Swedish company hopes to top Google’s coverage within a few years, mostly because of its growing network of community mappers.
When Google maps, it generally sends a fleet of vehicles into a city or town and then doesn’t come back and update for a few years.
“We have a different way of capturing images as well as our frequency of updating is different,” Solem said. “We offer a way for anyone to contribute and fill in [mapping] gaps.”
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