Computer vison for bird watchers

Computer vision applications perform a variety of services, from helping with scientific and medical advancements to assisting in facial recognition for law enforcement and even those in the field of marketing. But the use of this kind of technology also extends to the hobbies and free time of individuals.

An example is the iPad application Visipedia, which is a field guide for bird watchers, created and currently under continual development by researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering. Users can take and submit photos of birds, and the computer vision algorithms will come up with pictures and information about the bird candidate that is the closest match. While this technology has already been implemented with the more well-known of landmarks and sites, recognizing objects such as animals and plants is still far behind the curve.

How it works is by providing the likely matches based on the images provided, drawing from a database of male, female, old and young images of more than 500 species of birds in North America. Users then are able to label various parts of the bird and provide additional information such as colour or size, to help inform the program. The program is then able to take this information and apply it, which helps improve the algorithms already in place.

Image courtesy of Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

The app functions much like a game of 20 questions, asking users to answer questions based on identification. The answers then help narrow down the pool of results. Currently, the app averages five or six questions before properly identifying the bird, but the goal is to reduce that number to two or three.