Leafsnap
May 19, 2011 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Leafsnap is a free field guide for iPhone (Android coming soon) that uses the phone's camera and some biometric processing to identify trees by the shape of their leaves. Development was financed by the National Science Foundation (NYT article), and includes research by Columbia University, University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution.
posted by swift (47 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
I enjoy how smartphones are slowly turning into the all-purpose "thing I wear on my wrist" from SF plots.
posted by The Whelk at 1:39 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Everything Sensor, if you will.
posted by The Whelk at 1:40 PM on May 19, 2011


I enjoy how smartphones are slowly turning into the all-purpose "thing I wear on my wrist" from SF plots.

You may be interested in the Tricorder X Prize: "a $10 million prize to develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians."
posted by jedicus at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, that's excellent. I've been wanting something like this for a while.
posted by dubold at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2011


Thanks, swift, for bringing this to my attention. My family's business is primarily landscape design and installation and I'm embarassingly bad at identifying plant species on sight (ref. Homer, "Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.") and this will help me fix that.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2011


dubold: "Oh, that's excellent. I've been wanting something like this for a while."

Even better -- it's something I didn't even know I wanted that I'll soon be able to get. I really think that's what the future is best at -- letting me know the cool stuff I didn't even know I could have.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Make one for bugs please. Quick, before this bastard runs away again.
posted by theodolite at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is fucking awesome. We live in the future.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Neat! Want. My woodcraft is limited to identifying poison oak and poison ivy and bitching about the sweetgum balls clogging my downspouts. This is a Useful Thing.

Is there one for birds?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there one for birds?

WANT. Something like Shazam for birds would be the greatest.
posted by HumanComplex at 1:52 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, I hope it comes to android soon. I've got this tree in front of my house that drops little red balls full of yellow goo, and I've never been able to figure out what it is.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:54 PM on May 19, 2011


ALSO WANT THE BIRD VERSION. (plants I'm good at, birds, not at all).
posted by dan g. at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2011


ibird?
posted by benzenedream at 2:01 PM on May 19, 2011


This is fantastic. I'm good at birds, and terrible at trees and bushes and stuff. And it's just....awkward to be all "See the Thompson's Warbler? It's on the sort of spikey bush-thing to the right of the tree that's to the left of the round bushes." It doesn't help that California has a million kinds of oak trees. Off to download!
posted by rtha at 2:03 PM on May 19, 2011


Related: An old-fashioned tree identification key accessible via the web. Or an App.

What Tree is That?
posted by notyou at 2:08 PM on May 19, 2011


What Tree is That?
posted by notyou at 2:08 PM on May 19 [+] [!]


They've got an app as well, although it isn't free.
posted by luftmensch at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2011


This is awesome. A version for fishies would be cool as well.

But of the tree app, is there a version for North Carolina? if (1) return PINE_TREE;

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:12 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would pay for a version of this for plants native to the PNW regions of the US, to help with gardening.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:21 PM on May 19, 2011


I NOTED THAT ALREADY, LUFTMENSCH, IN THE PART THAT READS,
Or an App.
Your link, however, is a nice value add.
posted by notyou at 2:22 PM on May 19, 2011


Downloading now, although I'm in the Caribbean, so I don't know how many trees from the Northeast US are here.

I wrote a wildlife guide to the animals of the island I'm on, and while doing research I was pretty amazed at how hard it is to ID animals online, particularly invertebrates. This is doubly true if you're anywhere that hasn't been studied as much as the US or Europe. One would think that by now there would be a photo of pretty much every species available online, but one would be wrong.

Also, the interfaces for guides online tough. It's hard because for some things there are many species. Still, usually a good print guide is faster for me than the web even today.
posted by snofoam at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2011


*CLICK* ...This app is misidentifying the Canandian Flag pot leaf as a maple leaf. I've had it wrong all these years? This explains some things.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on May 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, for people who want an app that tells you what bird you just snapped with your smartphone camera, I think this will be limited by the quality of the photos you can get. At least until you can pop a 400mm lens on an iPhone.

On the other hand, identifying birds by recording their song might actually work much better.
posted by snofoam at 2:30 PM on May 19, 2011


Here's the promo video, which shows some of the features in more detail, like geotagging trees, sharing with friends, and how the database grows as more people use it.
posted by swift at 2:35 PM on May 19, 2011


This is so, so great. I know fuck-all about trees--if it's not an oak or a maple, forget it.

I want one for wildflowers, too.
posted by padraigin at 2:37 PM on May 19, 2011


This is fucking awesome. We live in the future.

I find myself walking around in gaping astonishment about once a week saying exactly this as I see things, now considered mundane and common, that would have taxed the imagination of the little kid me four decades ago.

Love it.
posted by quin at 2:46 PM on May 19, 2011


Man, when I would dream about what technology could do for me someday, this is pretty much exactly what I would imagine. You can keep your jet-packs, but this is divine.
posted by troublewithwolves at 3:02 PM on May 19, 2011


quin: "I find myself walking around in gaping astonishment about once a week saying exactly this as I see things, now considered mundane and common, that would have taxed the imagination of the little kid me four decades ago."

YES. More! What other awesome things can I get that will make me say that?
posted by danny the boy at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2011


You may be interested in the Tricorder X Prize: "a $10 million prize to develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians."

Yeah, the bad thing is, the engineers working on this project keep getting sick, and their doctors (ahem)..."finish them off".

Those docs don't want no competition...and they are ruthless! And you thought teamsters were rough!!
posted by hal_c_on at 3:43 PM on May 19, 2011


Wait...this thing is useless if it relies on a wifi connection to get you the data.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:46 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now do one for architecture.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:55 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait...this thing is useless if it relies on a wifi connection to get you the data.

Yeah, I noticed this when I went outside and left the confines of my office's wifi. I have a perfectly good phone connection, app! If I am hiking around in the wilds of California, I might not have cell service, but I might - and I will definitely not have wifi. And there doesn't seem to be a way to save to photos you take with it so you can check them later, when you have wifi.

Well, it's free, and it's still pretty cool.
posted by rtha at 4:06 PM on May 19, 2011


Wait...this thing is useless if it relies on a wifi connection to get you the data.

You can take the leaf with you, and a half day later set it on your desk, snap a pic, "oh crap, poison oak".
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:27 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


identifying birds by recording their song

Interesting you should mention this. My friend Jason Heller did his PhD on this topic. Here is a paper he wrote, "automatic recognition of harmonic bird sounds using a frequency track extraction algorithm". There has been some more recent research as well.

My sense is that the hardware and software still have some way to go.
posted by honest knave at 4:39 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you also need to have the leaf on a white background for it to work. The reviews on the store are pretty iffy to be honest.
posted by smackfu at 5:55 PM on May 19, 2011


Oh! I used Google Goggles for exactly this purpose just last week! After the program warned me that it might not be able to find a match, it came pretty damn close to doing so.

I was pleasantly surprised. Also, scared.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:33 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I want an app that will identify people. I'm sure it will come.
posted by unliteral at 7:01 PM on May 19, 2011


wow. and i'm an arborist so i'll say double wow.

but has anyone actually tried it? i'm ready to be amazed, but also aware of the fact that there are a lot of similar-shaped leaves from different trees out there.
posted by ecourbanist at 7:05 PM on May 19, 2011


but has anyone actually tried it?

I tried it with a (partial) sugar maple leaf, and it found it pretty fast.
posted by swift at 7:19 PM on May 19, 2011


I tried it, and it worked. But I'm in California, so there are a lot of things it won't be able to ID. Yet. I hope.
posted by rtha at 7:22 PM on May 19, 2011


I just tried it on a dried out two year old green hawthorn leaf, and it worked fine.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:52 PM on May 19, 2011


I've got this tree in front of my house that drops little red balls full of yellow goo

Strawberry Tree?
posted by jeto at 8:50 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had one of these for many years. My father.
posted by bz at 9:32 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want an app that will identify people. I'm sure it will come.

Oh yeah, its on the app store; its called "iAirportBigBrother".
posted by hal_c_on at 11:23 PM on May 19, 2011


Not at that long ago I literally thought "huh, what kind of tree is that?" and reached for my phone to shazam it before I realized that tree shazam did not exist. Yet.
posted by flaterik at 11:47 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've taken a couple of Prof. Belhumeur's (one of lead developers of Leafsnap) classes at Columbia and he is an absolutely fantastic researcher and an all around great lecturer. Work like this is what got me really interested in going back to graduate school and working in computer vision.

The smart phone as tri-corder / sensor platform concept is really exciting to me and I've been doing a good bit of work over the past couple of semesters on a few vision-based applications for smart phones. Specifically, I had one project where we are trying to measure pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygen content, and potentially blood glucose using the camera on an Android phone. Basically we are trying to hack the camera to allow us to use it as input device for spectroscopy. Now that Google will allow Android devices to act as USB hubs we may be able to do spectroscopy with an off-board device and then interface directly with the phone. We got a little bit of funding for that project and we are contemplating competing for the x-prize. I also have a prototype of a system that can recognize fasteners (screws, nuts bolts, etc.), and using a known calibration pattern, measure its dimensions. If I have time this summer I may port this code to iOS/Android.

It really seems that there are just a huge number of potential applications just waiting to be developed for these phones, and we're only really scratching the surface. I was at the Augmented Reality Event in Santa Clara this week and there were all sorts of incredibly futuristic phone apps being demonstrated. A couple examples include Quest Visual's World Lens which does augmented reality translation, Occipital's 360 Panorama app, Viewdel's Social Camera that does face recognition, and this amazing demo from Microsoft Research.

With respect to the bird call recognition, I've actually been sitting on an idea for a bird call app for quite some time, but instead of just recognizing bird calls I thought it would be cool to run the application as a background process to collect a huge distributed data set. That is to say I want to make a mobile SETI@Home-like system for ornithology. Users could leave their phones in their pockets or by a window while they are home and the system would identify the bird calls and store them in a database along with where and when they occurred. The app could even go so far as to have the application repeat calls to lure bird close by and photograph them so as to distinguish individuals and their age/sex/health. Once aggregated this data could then be used to count bird populations and track seasonal migration patterns (perhaps a proxy measurement for climate change estimation). Similar data could be collected for various other animals that produce audible sounds for communication (e.g. insects, frogs, wolves/foxes, even bats depending on the quality of the sensors).
posted by kscottz at 2:20 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Serious props to the folks who made this. I've wanted this app for a long time.
posted by humanfont at 8:35 AM on May 20, 2011


That is to say I want to make a mobile SETI@Home-like system for ornithology.

YES!

Except, maybe, for the part about it playing calls to lure birds in. This is a very controversial thing in birding circles did I really just write that?, because of the additional stress it can cause a bird defending its territory. No one I know who runs bird tours or walks does this during nesting season, for instance.
posted by rtha at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2011


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