Leafsnap is a new, free smart phone application resulting from the collaboration of University of Maryland, Columbia University and Smithsonian researchers. Using visual recognition software, users can identify different tree species after uploading a photograph of a leaf via the smart phone app. These photographs can be saved in a personal collection or users can browse the preexisting collection of leaves that come with the app. When a user clicks on a leaf in the collection, the application pulls up the tree name and various images of flowers, seeds and bark associated with the tree. Since the leaves are mainly identified by their shape, the application is not always perfectly accurate.
Leafsnap only focuses on trees in the Northeastern United States but it has already had a million downloads internationally. Initially, this technology was only meant for use by scientists. Now, it is encouraged to be used by the public because it will give people the information they need to be what UMD Professor of Computer Science David Jacobs calls “citizen scientists.” The application for smart phone users is critical in getting casual observers to be involved and interested in the future of biodiversity.
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October 15, 2012