I Just Got a VERY Interesting Email...
Karl, a Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison Just sent me this e-mail. In addition to his research on the genetics of sweet corn, he is also studying science communication and is working on several media projects about plant breeding.
Please take some time and visit his blog at www.biofortified.org. He is incredibly smart, insightful and asked some VERY good questions. I hope to hear back from him.
I had sent him a message asking for his insight into the iBoPlanet Project and I wanted to share his response, questions, and my responses here.
I just got this comment from you on our blog, Biofortified.org, and I took a look at your project and the video you made about it. This may interesting for our readers, many of whom are plant scientists. I would like to post something about it, and link to your kickstarter page, but I was wondering if you could answer some questions about it first?
(Q) In a nutshell, how does/will the app identify what species of plant someone is looking at?
(A) From a high level, this will be determined through 1 of 2 ways. 1) the optical image technology will recognize exact dimensions, shapes, lobes, sinus, veins, petiols, midribs, margins, and leaf blades and cross reference that image with an open source database created (wikipedia-style) by users who have the app. 2) the optical image technology will recognize exact dimensions, shapes, lobes, sinus, veins, petiols, midribs, margins, and leaf blades and cross reference that image with databases of images of hundreds of websites through what is referred to as API (accessing existing databases) or RSS feeds to determine the species of plant or tree.
(Q) Many species of plants look very similar on their leaves, and botanists will turn to identifying the species based on their flowers or other morphologies. Will your app be able to identify these plants all the way down to the species level, or what will its limitations be do you think?
(A) At this point, we don't see this as being too much of a problem but you raise a good point. However, the app SHOULD be able to determine all the way down to the species level and is the primary reason for the development of the app. We need to be able to not only tell not only that it's a "Maple Tree" but whether its an Amur Maple or a Nikko Maple - for example and the optical image technology should be able to determine this. There MAY be a margin of error + or - 5% but we will be able to provide an open source gateway for that error to be corrected by Scientists correcting the issues (These "Scientists" will, of course, be vetted)
(Q) You mentioned that you would have the nutritional or medicinal value amongst the information presented - what will be your source of information for these characteristics? What if a mis-classification puts someone in harm's way based on the information you present?
(A) An even better question as "Safety" and "liability" will obviously play a huge part in this app's conception. It is for this very reason that we are still determining whether or not the app should be "open source" (users upload their information after they are vetted to create our own database), access API/RSS, or both.
I can put your answers in a post advertising your project, and that you would like to get input on it (and support), which will probably get more attention than the comment you left. Looking forward to hearing from you, and good luck,
ME: I appreciate your excellent questions. Moving forward I hope this is a lesson not in futility, but a learning platform by which we can utilize technology to further the stimulus of botanical/horticultural/eco education. Even if the app is 90% effective, through open source technology the 10% variance can be overcome and we can create a global community of interactive enthusiasts about the plant and tree life that make up our world.
Thanks again and I look forward to continued correspondence.
I'm still interested in learning from YOU, my loyal backers, and those of you still "on the fence."