Birdwatching goes hi-tech with online video camera game

Apr 19, 2007
Birdwatching goes hi-tech with online video camera game
The web interface for CONE Sutro Forest, an online game that allows players to control the movements of a remote camera. Players earn points by snapping photos of birds and identifying them. The game is free and open to the public. (Image courtesy of Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley)

Fans of massive multi-player online games who are also interested in nature will soon get a chance to try out a new system developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Texas A&M University.

The new online game, to be launched Monday, April 23, will allow players to earn points by taking live photos using a remotely controllable robotic video camera and classifying the wild birds they see.

Craig Newmark, founder and customer service representative of craigslist, one of the most popular online communities in the country, is hosting the robotic video camera project from the back deck of his home, which overlooks Sutro Forest in San Francisco.

"This is a new kind of massive multi-player online game," said Ken Goldberg, a UC Berkeley professor of engineering and co-principal investigator of the project. "Rather than aiming a gun at virtual enemies, players aim a camera at live wild birds."

The technology behind the game, called Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments-Sutro Forest (CONE Sutro Forest), was conceived by Goldberg and Dezhen Song, assistant professor of computer science at Texas A&M.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Goldberg, Song and their students have been working for several years on systems that allow "collaborative control" of a camera's movements by multiple users over the Internet.

"CONE Sutro Forest uses a collaborative control interface that allows dozens of people to simultaneously share remote control of the pan-tilt-zoom video camera," said Goldberg. "It introduces highly responsive algorithms that automatically compute the optimal camera viewpoint to satisfy dozens of simultaneous players, including experts and amateurs. We've also included a new relay server to make the video stream faster and more responsive, a database of images and biological information about the wild birds likely to be spotted in the Sutro Forest, and a scoring system that rewards users who find and identify unusual birds."

For instance, using a computer mouse, a registered user of the Web site may direct the camera to point at a bluejay and snap a photo. However, if a majority of other players direct the camera elsewhere, the system will favor the more popular choice.

Players can see who else is logged on and try to beat them to the best pictures. The system waits until the photo is classified consistently by at least two players, and assigns points according to how rare the bird is. Players with higher scores get more influence over where the video camera is positioned.

"We hope this project increases public awareness about how technology can help natural observation," said Song. "This also brings people with a specific knowledge together effectively and efficiently."

"This is an interesting experiment in collaborative technology," added Newmark. "It's also fun to see an educational game based on what's happening outside my window."

"We're hoping it attracts a wide range of players, from young video gamers who have never tried birdwatching, to seniors who are seasoned birdwatchers," said Goldberg. "Initially, the gamers may be better at controlling the interface, and birdwatchers may be better at correctly classifying the birds. We're looking forward to seeing how things turn out."

Starting April 23, CONE Sutro Forest will be free and open to the public at: cone.berkeley.edu .

Source: UC Berkeley

Explore further: Declining catch rates in Caribbean green turtle fishery may be result of overfishing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Football displays fractal dynamics

Mar 19, 2014

Football fascinates millions of fans, almost all of them unaware that the game is subject to the laws of physics. Despite their seemingly arbitrary decisions, players obey certain rules, as they constantly ...

Envisioning seafaring in 2025

Mar 18, 2014

VTT and Rolls-Royce have worked together on brand new solutions for crews manning the bridges of tugs, cargo ships, and platform supply vessels in the year 2025. These innovations draw on the long experience ...

'Smart' racket offers tennis revolution

Mar 17, 2014

Aluminium and graphite swept away the wooden racket that Bjorn Borg used to win 11 Grand Slam titles, but smart rackets that analyse power and spin promise a new tennis revolution.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

35 minutes ago

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

1 hour ago

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Adventurous bacteria

2 hours ago

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

IBM posts lower 1Q earnings amid hardware slump

IBM's first-quarter earnings fell and revenue came in below Wall Street's expectations amid an ongoing decline in its hardware business, one that was exasperated by weaker demand in China and emerging markets.