AWS News Blog

Update on the Search for Steve Fossett (Update 3)

Update 3 We know many of you are anxious to learn what happened to your search submissions. Full details on areas screened and passed on to the Steve Fossett Search and Rescue team are at:

Important Update2! Thanks for the great feedback. We found this great tool for submitting your coordinates manually – Users are encouraged to use this tool as it would help us aggregate and organize the search results and most importantly not miss any results because every response is important.

Important Update! Thanks to all the thousands of people making this a full-time job! Please read these guidelines before reporting a find here. (1) If you find a likely location, submit it as a “yes” in Mechanical Turk. Please do not post here! The team is reviewing, and most of these “likely” observations are being reported by mutiple people. Only by using the official process are we able to aggregate feedback on a given tile of imagery. (2) If you wander off in Google Earth looking around, it is easy to wander out of the search dataset and into old images that are not relevant to the search. Another reason to register and use the images in Mechanical Turk per-se, rather than flipping back and forth between Google Earth. (3) However if you still want to post a manual set of coordinates, best to do so at

Recently I blogged about the use of Amazon Mechanical Turk to scale out the search for Steve Fossett. As a pilot who used to be involved in traditional Search and Rescue efforts, this form of innovation is incredible. Someone’s fate no longer depends solely on a relatively small number of aircraft; instead a large number of people can quickly search and cross-check high-resolution images.

If you have not yet helped in the search, please visit to pitch in.

So it seems appropriate to provide some feedback to all of the tens of thousands of people who have helped in the search. Accordingly, the following is straight from the product team:

Workers: thanks for your continued support!

Since launching the search for Steve Fossett, the support from the Mechanical Turk worker community has been outstanding. To date, tens of thousands of Steve Fossett searchers have completed millions of HITs. Your support in reviewing hundreds of thousands of images, covering thousands of square miles of terrain, has generated a number of highly credible leads. This effort has filtered the images down to less than 0.03% of images received.

After you submit each HIT, Mechanical Turk compares your answer to those received from workers looking at the same image. As highly rated images are identified, experts review them using Google Earth and pass the most promising leads directly to search teams.

Images are made available through the support of providers GeoEye, DigitalGlobe and Sanborn. Teams at Google prepare the raw images into the tiles. Data is then processed using EC2 and stored in S3 before being made available through Mechanical Turk.

Workers have already reviewed hundreds of thousands of images from GeoEye, and are now working on imagery from DigitalGlobe. We’ve just begun processing Sanborn data and will begin loading new HITs shortly.

Your continued participation is sincerely appreciated. Thanks for all your support.

So what have they found? Here’s a couple of screenshots…

Experts reviewing each image have immediate access to the comments provided by workers as well as the percentage of workers who flagged the image.

After workers submits their HITs, responses are reviewed by experts using Google Earth to better examine the surrounding areas and evaluate each lead.

— Mike

Jeff Barr

Jeff Barr

Jeff Barr is Chief Evangelist for AWS. He started this blog in 2004 and has been writing posts just about non-stop ever since.