It’s no secret that we come into contact with hundreds of plants and animals every day, but it can be pretty hard to identify or learn all about them. What if your phone could help you with that?
The team behind the online nature platform iNaturalist has just released a new app called ‘Seek’ which can identify plants and wildlife with just a picture.
It’s already being called the “Shazam for plants and animals.”
The people from iNaturalist want to motivate people to have a closer relationship with wildlife and nature that surrounds them, and the app has a heavy focus on education as well.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Shazam works, that app allows you to identify a song based on a couple of seconds of an audio recording. Instead of audio, Seek flawlessly integrates with your camera. Just point your smartphone snapper at a plant or animal you’d like to know more about, and the image recognition technology will do the rest.
Once Seek has identified your plant or animal – whether it’s in the middle of the city or in your own backyard – the app will give you a name and give you all sorts of additional information via Wikipedia.
So how exactly is this app able to identify plants on the spot?
Underneath the clean user interface, Seek uses a number of different techniques to process the images you’ve just taken. The free application has complete access to the iNaturalist database, where thousands of researchers and naturalists have documented millions of plant and animal species. Their database is quite extensive, and the app will also give you a list of the most common plants and animals in your neighborhood.
After you take a picture, it is then uploaded to the internet where it’s quickly processed. Seek uses a nifty combination of both neural networks (machine learning) and artificial intelligence to compare your picture to the online database. If the app finds enough similarities to a specific species, your plant or animal can be identified.
Sounds pretty cool, right?
And because there’s an artificial intelligence involved, the online database keeps on expanding and the technique keeps on improving every time a user takes a new picture. If the app doesn’t succeed in spotting the plant or animal on your picture at first, the app will keep trying until the neural network is smart enough to properly identify it.
“The only way we can improve our modeling of species is to get more data, and to do that we need more people outside taking pictures,” iNaturalist co-founder Scott Loarie told.
Your results are also shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, meaning you can actually contribute to science.
Aside from being educational, Seek also wants to be fun.
Seek is aiming towards nature lovers, but also wants to attract families who want to spend time exploring nature around them. To make things a little bit more fun, the app features a number of earnable ‘badges’, that are rewarded when you take a specific number of photos, spot a specific animal or find your first insect, for example.
It turns the app into a little game and encourages you to build up a virtual collection of plants and animals – all while providing you with tons of cool facts about the species you’ve photographed. Who said education and gaming couldn’t go together?
At the moment, the free app is only available to download on iOS devices in the App Store. iNaturalist is currently working on a version for Android smartphones and tablets as well. Even though the app just recently released, it has already made the Top 100 list of educational apps in the App Store.
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If you feel like exploring nature around you, it definitely can’t hurt to give Seek a try.
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