Automated road tracing - "Microsoft Road Detect" didn't work for me

Posted by bdiscoe on 25 August 2013 in English (English)

After so many hours manually tracing roads, one naturally begins to wonder if there's some software for automatically detecting them. Google turns up only a research project, the "Microsoft Road Detect" at

There's some discussion among OSM people about whether this would be a good thing or not. I think the point's moot because it doesn't work.

First thing I tried was the JOSM experimental plugin "MagicShop"; it hadn't been touched in 2 years which is a bad sign. Current JOSM refused to accept the jar, not a huge surprise.

I'd consider it worthwhile to fix the plugin if it would give useful results, so I went directly to and gave it some test coordinates: a nice clear straight section of road in India I happened to be tracing recently.

And this is what it did: bad road

Yeah. Well, maybe I could write my own algorithm/plugin.

Comment from Richard on 25 August 2013 at 12:04

There's a never-deployed Potlatch 2 branch which uses its own code rather than the MagicShop service:

And Mapbox have been working on similar things:

Comment from bdiscoe on 3 September 2013 at 07:29

Yeah, the second discussion there points to the JOSM plugin "scanaerial" which is very hacky, hard to install, and only really for water bodies not roads. (It's also temporarily broken at the moment; can only reach landsat not Bing.)

I'd be curious why that 'never-deployed Potlatch 2 branch" didn't happen, and if it was promising or not..

I'd seen Mapbox's teaser as well, which is clearly still pretty researchy.

I'm going to try my own, more in next post..

Comment from malenki on 8 September 2013 at 09:36

I had taken some pains to test the "Road-Detect"-foo some years ago and was as disappointed as you.

For scanaerial you'd need a WMS which serves good aerial imagery - it is not limited to Bing. Regrettably the ancient lakewalker was hardcoded to use landsat imagery.

Besides I found scanaerial not much of a help when there were waterbodies to trace whose color wasn't uniform like lakes reflecting the sun at ripples where the wind blows over it or where the color of the water changed with the depth of it.

I look forward to your road tracer and am volunteering in case you need some people for testing.

Happy coding/mapping :)

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