Columbia University has recently published an app that utilizes Apple’s face recognition technology to identify different plant species. It’s called LeafSnap and is really quite ingenious. Say, on my walk through the woods one day, I come upon a species of tree unfamiliar to me. No problem. I just pull out my iPhone (or iPad if I had a newer one with a camera), snap a photo of a leaf, and the app will compare the image to a database of more than 8,000 images, returning the most likely matches.
The application also sends the image to a central database that records the location and date so that we can track the number of species in different locations. This is amazing.
Our own Chuck Wood used this app recently on an outing and gave it a generally favorable review. However, he noted a couple of limitations. First, the image needed a white background to work properly (so take an index card along with you on your hike). Second, the leaf needs to be flat for good recognition (so take along some Scotch tape). One of Chuck's leaves returned more than 100 possible matches–a bit more than he had hoped for.
But problems aside, the possibilities of such technology in education are immense. There already are apps for identifying constellations. Identifying rock types in a geology field trip or cloud types in a meteorology class would be possible. Or perhaps the avid coin collector would be able to identify that rare coin. The possibilities are virtually unlimited.
See http://leafsnap.com/ for more info and to get this free app. Give it a try and let us know how you might incorporate it with your students. And let us know if there are similar photo recognition apps that might be useful in the classroom.