Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Seek and discover

Posted on 30 October, 2019 by Ivan

Have you ever wondered what that mysterious plant might be and don’t have the knowledge or time to consult with a botanical encyclopedia? Meet Seek!

The Seek app is an online social network for nature enthusiasts and is part of an ongoing attempt to involve ordinary people in citizen science projects. Similar to Shazam – an app that allows you to identify music from audio recordings – the Seek app allows you to identify plants and animals from your photos by harnessing image recognition technology. It is still in the early stages of learning many of the native species from this region, but learns from each experience it is exposed to.

The Seek app enables you to take photos of nature and have complex articifical intelligence attempt to identify them. Photo: I-Naturalist

The beauty of this app is that it encourages curious adventurers to become engaged with the wildlife around them. Fun and educational for kids and adults alike, users can earn badges while they learn about each new species they photograph.

We tried this app around Castlemaine in central Victoria to identify plants (and chickens in the community garden adjacent to our office – red jungle fowl, tick!), and found its ability to identify plants depended on the camera’s ability to focus. Moving the camera around at different angles (without taking a photo), helped it recognise exotic plants to genus level. It performed better at identifying exotic species, which is useful if you want to identify weeds. At this point in Seek’s development, it didn’t succeed at identifying any plants to species level.  We recommend patience and a good field guide, as we found the app incorrectly identified an  Early Black Wattle (Acacia decurrens – native to NSW and a weedy invader of bushland in central Victoria), as Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), (Acacia dealbata – a locally indigenous species.

With further development, this could be a powerful app for anyone learning to identify weeds and local native species, and also for recording observations in the landscape. Seek draws from existing data collected from wildlife observations on iNaturalist, in combination with artificial intelligence and neural network technologies. Once downloaded, users are provided with lists of commonly recorded plants, insects, birds and other animals in their area. When a new photo is uploaded, the app’s artificial intelligence analyses the photo to find a match, adds it to the user’s collection, and provides a summary of information from Wikipedia.

The app software currently recognises 30,000 species, and will continue to improve with further use. The app’s co-founder Scott Loarie explains, ‘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’.

The Seek app doesn’t require any registration to use and doesn’t collect any user data by default, though location data is used to show you the plants and animals in your area. Alternatviely, if an app is not for you, you might be interested to have a look at the Flora of Australia website

You can read more about the Seek app, and to download it for free – click here.

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