Professor develops mobile app to identify plant species
As a professor of computer science at the engineering school and director of Columbia’s Laboratory for the Study of Visual Appearance, Peter Belhumeur has worked on face recognition software since the mid-1990s. He quickly saw that the same algorithms that can process the curve of an eyebrow or the angle of a cheekbone could be applied to the shape of a leaf.
“The idea of building classifiers that say, ‘Is this person in the photo a man or a woman?’ or ‘Is that leaf a sugar maple or a silver maple?’ uses a lot of the same sort of math and technology,” says Belhumeur.
With the help of computer scientist David Jacobs at the University of Maryland and John Kress, research botanist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Belhumeur developed LeafSnap, an electronic field guide that is now available on the iPhone and iPad, and on Android phones later this year. It is easy enough for a child to use, but goes well beyond the basics for botanists.
For a guy with a wife who is constantly trying to figure the name/type/whatever of yet another random plant cutting, this app seems to hold promise. Gonna have her install it tonight on her droid and see how it works.