I don’t personally own a high-tech phone. I don’t really see the point of having one except that they can come in useful once in a while for directions or settling random trivia debates. However, this article shows that smartphones can actually have important contributions to science, and can be used for something other than updating Twitter. Field biology is extremely time and labor intensive, but hopefully with this new smartphone program it could get a little easier. A Harvard biologist and computer scientist designed an electronic vision system that can recognize and count specific animals. The system is programmed for the Motorola Droid X2 Smartphone. The idea began with an Air Force request for a cheap and efficient way to monitor the endangered animals near a base. The current vision systems are not advanced enough to organize and identify animals. This new phone technology analyses pictures and looks for specific pixel patterns. Currently, the identification program can recognize 85% of the animals. The program is hopefully going to be released to the US Air Force by 2014. This could make massive contributions to ecosystems studies because it will reduce the need to extrapolate data. Researchers will be able to count everything, leading to more accurate estimates. Additionally, scientists are working on a system that can recognize individual animals. This would allow biologist to gain more detailed information about a specific individual’s migrations and social interactions.
I think this is an amazing use of technology. I hope by the time I actually get around to buying a smartphone, they will have a basic animal and plant identification program for the general population. I think it would be a great way to get people interested in biology!