Annual Report 2005/2006


We built on the findings of our thorough study of user practice to build a browser for biodiversity research notes. Our study included interviews with numerous field biologists and museum personnel. One of our students also underwent training as a docent for our participating Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. That same student accompanied a class of biology students to a training session in the Mexican rain forest. These activities gave us a solid understanding of user needs.

Our resulting ButterflyNet browser consequently bridged the gap between the very much liked paper notebooks that biodiversity researchers are used to, and the digital world. We accomplished this bridging through the use of Anoto technology. This technology includes a pen and paper with a tiny dot pattern printed upon it. The pen writes with regular ink, but it also includes a camera that uses the dots as location reference. The pen can thereby record all of the writer's strokes. In addition, each stroke is time stamped. When uploaded to the computer, the mechanism provides an image of the writer's entries.

Using the time stamps, the ButterflyNet browser collates digital photographs with the online version of the notebook. Collation is possible because digital photographs are also time stamped.

EcoPod: PDA Based Species Identification

We developed a tool that helps well informed amateurs to identify plants and animals in the field. Such tools are important because biodiversity research requires large datasets of observations that can then be analyzed for changes over time and correlations with other developments, like global warming and urbanization.

The challenge for such tools is that the resulting data must be reliable so as not to mislead the scientific analysis. Our EcoPod tool therefore includes a number of features that allow users to express uncertainty, and to attach evidence, like photographs and audio recordings, to their observations.

TeamTag: Groups Tagging Photographs

A third project this past year has been a tool for groups of biologists to collaboratively annotate photographs with metadata. Such a tool is useful for instance in teaching situations, because proper metadata tagging is not always straight forward.

Our tool operates on a tabletop display. This is a table whose surface is the display of a computer. Four participants can sit around the table and interact with its surface. Interaction is accomplished by touching or dragging items on the display surface. The tabletop hardware allows the attached computer to distinguish who is touching the surface at any time.

We explored in particular how best to place the tagging tools on the table's surface. The placement proved to be less obvious than we had expected. We found that the best strategy was to replicate all of the tagging control for each user, even though this approach consumes much more screen real estate than the alternative of placing the controls into the center of the table.

Intra-Project Contacts

We organized an all-hands meeting early in the year. This meeting brought together our partners from the California Academy of Sciences, and the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Prof. Dirzo's reported on his installation of large-mammal camera traps in the Jasper Ridge Preserve. This project is now well on its way and producing data.

Broader Community Impact

Our EcoPod project is expressly focused on larger community impact. Many lay citizens are interested in contributing observations to the growing collections of plant and animal observations. Web sites like Calflora collect this data. Unfortunately, many researchers are hesitant to utilize this data, because it is not always deemed reliable. EcoPod is one step towards creating an audit trail that will allow some quality assurance process to be introduced into the data gathering process.

Early Protoypes and Designs

See above. Participating Students: