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Math and Bio Come Together to Make Tree Identification a Snap

June 8, 2011

Researchers have pooled their expertise in mathematics and biology to create the world’s first plant-identification mobile app.

Leafsnap is a field guide that allows users to identify tree species simply by taking a photograph of a tree’s leaves. In addition to the species name, the app provides high-resolution photographs and information about any tree’s flowers, fruit, seeds, and bark.

According to John Kress (Smithsonian Institution), Leafsnap was initially designed as a specialized aid for scientists and plant explorers. Its algorithms and software were developed by scientists from Columbia University and the University of Maryland. The Smithsonian Institution supervised the identification and collection of leaves in the app's image library.

“We wanted to use mathematical techniques we were developing for face recognition and apply them to species identification,” said Peter Belhumeur (Columbia University). “Traditional field guides can be frustrating—you often do not find what you are looking for. We thought we could redesign them using today’s smartphones and visual recognition technology.”

“Within a single species leaves can have quite diverse shapes, while leaves from different species are sometimes quite similar,” said David Jacobs (University of Maryland). “So one of the main technical challenges in using leaves to identify plant species has been to find effective representations of their shape, which capture their most important characteristics.”

Leafsnap is now only available for the iPhone, but iPad and Android versions are expected to be released later this year.

Source: Smithsonian News Desk (May 2, 2011)

Start Date: 
Wednesday, June 8, 2011