As the weather cools down and autumn flowers begin to bloom, nature lovers can take to the country’s trails armed with a new smartphone application capable of identifying mystery plants and animals.
Israeli start-up app CNature, available on both Android and Apple devices, enables photographers to upload flora and fauna and receive feedback to help classify the plants or animals that might cross their paths. Harnessing GPS and seasonal information, as well as user responses to a series of questions, the app then leverages comprehensive databases of Israeli flora and fauna. The flora database was developed in cooperation with the website Wild Flowers of Israel.
“People often experience difficulties in identifying and recognizing the flora and fauna around us,” said Nadav Bocher, co-founder of CNature. “In addition to written guides, websites and various forums, we realized that there is a place for an app that integrates content, community and technology, and enables the discovery of nature in an accessible, fun and educational way.”
Upon downloading the app, the user can take a photo and then select either the plant or animal category. In a test run, The Jerusalem Post picked “animal,” and then received further choices for bird, mammal or lizard. After selecting “bird,” the Post was alerted that there were a certain number of possible types of animals based on the user’s location, and then went on to receive a variety of other questions, relating to traits like bird color, the bird’s size in comparison to a crow, beak size, shape and color.
As the user proceeds through the questions, the list of possible plants or animals continuously narrows down, accompanied by photos. All photos taken by the user are stored in his or her personal “garden.”
Soon, in addition to the programmed technology that semi-automatically identifies the animals and plants spotted by users, the app’s developers will be integrating a crowd-sourcing interface that enables nature lovers to interact with and help each other identify their finds in a similar manner.
“The most interesting [feature] is what we are starting soon – social-based identification where you can snap a photo and send it to the community,” Bocher told the Post.
As occurs in many such social interfaces, users will be aware of the credibility of their peers, based on their rankings and contributions to the entire community, Bocher explained. While this platform is entirely ready for launch, the developers are waiting for the number of users to increase before they implement the new feature, he said.
At this point in time, Bocher explained, imaging-processing technology is simply not sufficiently developed for a smartphone app to recognize a species based on a photo alone.
“Technology-wise, there’s a huge barrier still,” he said.
“When you want to build machine learning technology, you need an enormous database to recognize a certain species from all angles.”
Instead of using sub-par image-processing technology, the CNature app narrows down relevant options based on location, time of year and rarity of species, then moves on to interact with the community members themselves, Bocher explained.
“We could use the existing technologies, but we chose not to at this time because they are not ready enough,” he added. “We thought it would be better to use our content or the community.”
While free of charge, CNature at this point is available only in Hebrew and is limited to wildlife in Israel. An English version of the app will be available at the end of November, and the developers are currently working on versions for markets abroad – beginning with North America, Bocher said.
The developers of CNature are graduates of the Yeruham-based MindCET – Ed Tech Innovation Center accelerator program. In September, CNature won first place in the Israeli finals of the Global EdTech Awards, a competition jointly organized by the MindCET, the UK-based Open Education Challenge and EdTech Incubator and the Colombia-based InncubatED.
CNature is scheduled to represent Israel in the Global EdTech finals this month.
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