Continental Mapping is proud to support Taking Autism to the Sky (TATTS), who was awarded the 2019 United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Community Achievement Award on Tuesday, June 4th 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. The organization was founded by Continental Mapping employees and counts many staff members as volunteers. The 501(c)(3) organization leverages drones to develop social and employment skills for autistic individuals.


The USGIF Community Achievement Award honors TATTS, which began as a crowd-funded project in 2012, for its unique approach to developing skillsets relevant to the geospatial industry in autistic individuals. Utilizing drones provides an opportunity to practice perspective taking, teamwork, and data processing skills, which are much needed for the geospatial industry.


In recent years there has been a heightened awareness of promoting diversity in the workplace for people with special needs. Large corporations such as SAP and Microsoft have publicly promoted their positions and states such as Wisconsin have enacted Employment First laws that set policy priorities of Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) for people with special needs. Recent studies have shown that unemployment rates among autistic young adults run as high as 70%. Concurrently, the geospatial industry is hard pressed to find employees with deep focus and attention to detail who can collect and curate geospatial information, train and manage algorithms, and perform geospatial analytics. TATTS provides a valuable service to the autism community, sets an example for ways to leverage the strengths of autistic individuals and is developing the geospatial workforce of tomorrow. Directly applicable geospatial industry skills include content collection, processing, and analysis.


TATTS volunteers bring their real-world geospatial and teamwork experience to guide learning and development. Founded by Continental Mapping employees Paul Braun and Dan Frye, other volunteers include Brad Gartmann, Mark Harris, Joe Lahti, Patrick Murn, Dawson Bancroft-Short, and Gary Morrison. This team of dedicated geospatial professionals promotes geography and technology to an underserved population that can potentially address the prospective employee shortages in industry.

From L to R: Joe Lahti, Patrick Murn, Dan Frye, Paul Braun, Mark Harris, Brad Gartmann, Dawson Bancroft-Short


The innovative atmosphere in the workplace is similarly present within TATTS. The very idea of TATTS was innovative in that commercial drone technology was just emerging in in 2012 and there weren’t many people to rely on to learn how to build, fly and use them. In 2017 TATTS built an augmented reality sandbox, aided by equipment donations from Continental Mapping. A Microsoft Kinect sensor and high end graphics card renders dynamically-updated topography on the sand using a projector. The AR sandbox brings hands-on interaction as TATTS members try to model in the sandbox what they’ve seen for real through the drone, as well providing sensory input to a population that often needs such input.


To learn more about TATTS, including how to enroll, volunteer, or support, please visit www.tatts.org.