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: Free the seed: OSSI nurtures growing plants without patent barriers

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

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...