Apps can Transform How We Interact with Nature

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Apps can transform how we interact with nature
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The way we communicate with the natural world can dramatically impact applications that utilize the entire spectrum of technologies on our smartphones.

“One of the distinguishing characteristics of the 20th century was the rise of nature conservation as a cultural, scientific, and political need. If mankind embarks on an “information revolution,” then the progressive and exploratory approach towards new technology is essential for nature protection. The future of conservation as a cultural force could be compromised if this were not achieved.”

This is an excerpt from Nature apps: a research paper on ‘nature applications’ and how they can potentially revolutionize the way we engage with nature.

The researchers (Richard Jepson and Richard J. Ladle) said:

Our smartphones provide a unique potential to deeply transform the way humans and the natural environment interact, especially the way we “appreciate, use and protect wild spots, animals, and plants.”

However, they have been disappointed by the number of applications that do not take the advantage of smartphone computational capability. They evaluated 6301 natural-related applications in the Google App Store and discovered that smartphone technical capabilities or the public’s imagination were not adequately used.

Promising natural applications

Most have not used modern smartphone technology to its full advantage. However, they found several promising examples of creativity and innovation:

  • Tree Planet is a conservation game application which challenges players to grow, feed and protect a tree. Once players reached level 7, they can apply at a real reforestation facility to plant a real tree.
  • To determine the tree species from the leaf, LeafSnap uses image recognition software.
  • Coral RKV and Zoo-AR use increased reality to animate 2D posters and to overlay and link resources to information. Apps like these could alter educational and curious connections with nature when made with wearable RA (like Google Glass).
  • ActlnNature Hunting is a smartphone GPS hunting software that provides the user with a real-time 3D map in relation to other hunters using the app.
  • This connects the smartphone to an Ultrasonic Bat detector (attached to), allows users to log calls and submit the data to an online ban, where calls from 34 species of European Bat are afterwards classified. Database records not suitable for a separate online project to identify and discuss crowd-sourced information.
  • New Forest Cicada Hunt is used to identify endangered cigar species by using machine learning and smartphone. When in the countryside, they simply switch the app on and are alerted to a sound which matches the characteristics of these animals. The user is then requested to record and upload to the project database. This app is especially clever as it is
    1. takes advantage to detect frequencies above human hearing by smartphone mics.
    2. leads the way to the detection and identification of automated acoustic species via Smartphone in real time.
    3. offers common people an exciting chance to support the discovering of species.

Unprecedented and Exciting

Certainly, the writers were impressed by the large range of natural applications.

“An unprecedented and exciting profusion of apps and their potential uses.”

But “that we are in the midst of an app-based revolution which transforms how people relate to and engage with the natural world is certainly premature.”

Nevertheless, they remain aware that the modest number of apps that leverage the enhanced functionality of our smartphones shows clearly how revolutionary the potential is.

A Human-Machine Hybrid

The researchers believe that smartphone can become a form of man-specific appendage for the Next Generation of Natural Applications.”
Applications must be innovated in a variety of critical areas in order to achieve this potential: cloud computing, “big data” analytics, smartphone sensor and computing capabilities, and human capabilities.

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These limits are at three highly interesting places:

  • Species identification applications that use real-time audio recording ‘machine learning backed’
  • Attractive apps for visitors that utilise integrated reality
  • Ecological applications for study using add-on sensors

Regrettably, there are few and far between apps such as these. It is because app development teams are difficult to build up with the proper amount of technical skill and b) the practical capacity to create creative applications with high functionality.

What is next to happen?

If a new generation of inventive and borderline natural applications is to be seen, some things first need to happen:

  • Natural companies must make substantial use of technological possibilities.
  • Investments towards the development and deployment of high-speed open source algorithms.
  • More money for creative teams to develop application prototypes that broaden the way nature and landscapes are engaged.
  • Public investment in major demonstration projects to explore, enjoy and monitor the natural resources of smartphones

The nature app development should be the focus of universities and advanced research institutions.

They have informaticians, information engineers, and ecologists who work with complexity. They also have the computer capability to deal with the problems of ethics and governance that arise, and their independence and society.

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