Augmented Field Guides

The New York times ran a story yesterday about a new breed of field guides, those made not out of paper, but out data bytes and computer vision algorithms.
The article mostly revolved around a new application coming to the iPhone, that enables users to take photographs of leaves and by doing so identify the tree to which they belong.

The computer tree guide is good at narrowing down and finding the right species near the top of the list of possibilities, he said. “Instead of flipping through a field guide with 1,000 images, you are given 5 or 10 choices,” he said. The right choice may be second instead of first sometimes, “but that doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You can always use the English language — a description of the bark, for instance — to do the final identification.”

The technology comes from this group at Columbia University, which on their site you can find the academic papers describing the algorithms that were used in prior incarnations of that application. Now, I know some of you will say that this is not AR, since no image-registering was involved. Well, it fits my definition of AR (it augments our reality), and looking at a previous prototype that involves a HUD, and fiduciary markers, makes things even more obvious:

Anyway, I find this use of AR fascinating. It could really connect kids with nature, detaching them from the computer screen for a while, and transforming any outside walk into an exploration. What do you think?

4 Responses

  1. I think it’s a great idea. I posted about it a month ago –

    My kids would love to take walks and identify the surrounding trees and other fauna. I have a fair understanding of many of the trees, but would be great to have facts come up about the trees that I didn’t know.

    The raw data feeds would also be very useful for scientists. They could understand trends and patterns in nature. The app could easily ask the health of the tree and give a rating. This would allow for some pretty interesting studies with the data collected by kids.

  2. Thomas gave the wrong address, his post is at

    and that’s a wonderful opportunity to apologize for all the typos I made in the original version of this post (leafs!). I was way too tired to write it, and I’m always to lazy to proof-read.

  3. Whoops. Thanks for fixing my link. For some reason it does that double copy on me occasionally.

    And kudos on all the great content lately. I can barely keep up, or beat you to a new find. :)

  4. Yeah, I can barely keep up checking all this new stuff its wonderfull.

    Looks like Augmented Reality is going to take over Virtual Reality soon;

    In terms of search volume anyway.

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