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Wild plant utilization app

Image credit: https://expertphotography.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Macro-iPhone-Photography-Holding-Phone.jpg

Povilas S
Povilas S Jan 23, 2021
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General comments

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia month ago
Great idea and completely doable! I like how the first of the three points towards to end tries to accommodate virtually every big problem :)

Bird enthusiasts like to know where a species was seen and when. https://ebird.org/home helps them immensely. In this regard, I like that the app will store the location of the plant. Birds move and the sighting is by chance. That will not be the case with trees. If someone posts in the spring season that a plant in their neighborhood is flowering, other users may visit and enjoy the beauty.

One suggestion: It would be user-friendlier if you could avoid the 360° camera on a stick and other apparatus. Smartphones are smarter than ever and can accommodate all technical aspects. As an alternative, I would go with this - "... they should then additionally take several photos of that plant up-close ...". Not just for poisonous plants but all the plants. The app could have separate sections to upload/ capture photos of a leaf, maybe the stem, if possible flowers and fruits, etc. The database can be equally equipped so that the app could identify the plant from these photographs.

A question: You mentioned in your reply to Juran - "the app would be intended to be able to identify species from pictures of general greenery made somewhat at a distance". Wouldn't identification from photos of individual trees be easier? Also, if someone wants to identify all the species from a landscape, the image will need to be of a very superior quality (high resolution) and an equally superior algorithm, further increasing the cost of both the user devices and the app. I am not against it but I think this should not be the primary aim. The primary aim can be identifying individual plants (from individual plant photos).

Two different add-ons:
1. I agree with Juran K. 's suggestion of the app having the property of identifying plant diseases. This is not just helpful for the crops but can also be helpful for wild species. If there is a diseased plant, the user should know that it is diseased (some diseases though visual may not be able to be differentiated from the plant's phenotype). For example, the fern spores are atypical and can be mistaken for insects or disease. If the plant has a disease, the user should know whether it is safe for them to consume/ use it.
2. I am assuming ethnobotanical uses will include both medicinal and culinary uses. In this case, the users should be able to post recipes and upload photos. This social aspect of commenting and reacting to photos, recipes, and other preparations will increase the popularity of the app and improve people's knowledge regarding the use of the species. Even when using a plant for non-culinary purposes, it would be beneficial for the user to know how a plant can be used. Recipes and other preparations will help.
Povilas S
Povilas Sa month ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni Yes, plants being stationary is a very convenient feature in this context. You can spot a certain habitat with a lot of useful plants somewhere and if you mark the coordinates you can come back there after many years and still find it more or less the same if humans didn't interfere. And the same goes for individual plants and their populations. This is especially useful in the context when information is shared amongst people.

When I was traveling low-budget I had an idea to start a wiki "strain" for travelers to share information about edible and otherwise useful wild plants. Similar to hitchwiki or nomadwiki. Once someone spots a population of useful plants in a certain location they can then report it in an article about the closest town (or another geographical object) together with the description about plant's uses, personal experience with it, etc. An interactive map then can be developed to mark all the locations with certain plants spotted in them and update the info once someone else has visited the same location.

This is related to what you suggest about the social part of the app. However, in the context of the envisioned app, I see some disadvantages to this. First, to make an app a high-quality tool, the information about the uses should be trustworthy enough, mixing it with social media-like posts is not a very good idea if you want to keep the information accurate. Even though this has the benefit of supplementing already existing info and adding even more practical experience, but at the same time, you can't filter all the bogus which in ethnobotany is already quite abundant.

Mixing a practical tool with social media might not be a very good idea, it depends on whether the people using it are serious and responsible. It might be better to make a separate, related program for this, or an extension, not directly interlinked.
Povilas S
Povilas Sa month ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni "The primary aim can be identifying individual plants (from individual plant photos)." But this is already possible with existing apps, so the only improvement then would be the ethnobotanical part, which is also to an extent already possible.

You see the way I envisioned it is for an app to enable you to quickly know which species from your surroundings can be used and how by making a list of useful species available in a certain spot of nature. In the case when the app can only identify one plant at a time, you have to go around photographing plants and play this kind of a blind chance game, even if the app provides ethnobotanical information about each plant. Especially for a person who knows very little about plants, they can hardly see few species, because they don't look for differences, they see "the greenery", so even to find enough different plants to photograph would be a task for them, you have to train the eye for this.

Imagine people are camping and want to try eating some wild plants. If the app can only identify one plant at a time they would have to go around photographing until they found something edible enough - this is not a very appealing approach, although it will work, yes, they will try something with enough perseverance, but imagine if they can know quickly all the edible plants available around them and then can only choose what to eat according to what's most nutritious or otherwise attractive/beneficial, this is game-changing. Then they can go look for the plant they chose, reidentify it with closer pictures, collect and prepare it. They don't have to play the blind searching game. Now imagine you need a herb to stop the bleeding from a wound - even worse.

That's why I think that investing in this is absolutely worth it. Even if it takes a specialized camera and a very sophisticated algorithm. For people who just want to play around and wouldn't have enough motivation to seriously use plants even if they had a list of all useful plants available around them, the first option is good enough, but for people who are more seriously interested, having a separate camera in a backpack is not a problem.

You make a good point about the identification of plant diseases being useful in the case of wild plants. This would be helpful, yes.
Jurana month ago
Add-on idea:

- make the database of plant diseases with pictures, morphological and physiological symptoms, causes, and solutions

It could help farmers and all the people who just entered gardening to detect the problem when they encounter one. The app would scan the area as you mentioned and according to the habitat, condition of the soil and other plants, the period of the year, and data on climate, disease break-outs, spraying, and general fertilization habits in the last few years, identify the problem that you encountered and offer you the most efficient and economical solution.
Jurana month ago
The idea is awesome! Not only the technology and algorithms behind it, or the three points you highlighted at the end, but also the frame you are trying to fit it in.
The kids nowadays feel adventurous when visiting the nearby forest, which was completely normal and natural for me as a kid. Therefore, this app would offer a nice tool to overcome the distance between nature and technology-raised kids. With the use of their "new body extension" (aka smartphone), they could safely dive into the wilderness of nature. Really nice!

Would you make this app freely available or it would have a subscription or something similar?
If it would be free for everybody (which would fit in your vision), how would it be financed?
How would you solve the problem of different growth phenotypes? Many young plants are almost identical and have differences visible only when dissected.
Also, to detect the species more precisely, maybe it would be nice for the algorithm to consider the time of the year and define the phase the plant is now in. Could solve some issues.