Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Your image could save a stream

Vision systems have traditionally been employed in industrial applications to inspect products to ensure that they meet the requirements set down by manufacturers.

But with the advent of the camera-based mobile phone, new applications are coming on stream that allow individual members of the public to take part in so-called "citizen based"  projects in which they can capture images to help inspect the state of the environment.

In one such project called Creek Watch, folks across the world can monitor watersheds and report their conditions using an iPhone application developed by IBM Research. Every update provides data that local water authorities can then use to track pollution, manage water resources and plan environmental programs.

The free Creek Watch app is claimed to be easy to use. All individuals have to do is to stop by any waterway and, with the phone's GPS enabled, take a photo and submit three crucial pieces of data on the water level, flow rate and trash found.

"That’s all it takes to play your part in helping conserve and protect your local water resources," said Christine Robson, an IBM computer scientist who helped develop Creek Watch. "No expertise or training is required. This is an exercise in crowd sourcing, where every individual is encouraged to become a citizen scientist and get engaged with their environment."

A new update to the app makes it easy for users to share their photos and findings on Facebook and Twitter, if they want to. The IBM researchers think that such postings are expected to encourage more users to use the app and allow them to collect more data.

IBM Research aggregates the Creek Watch reports and makes them available at, where water control boards and other interested parties can filter the data and view it as an interactive map or download a spreadsheet. The California State Water Control Board is the first entity to partner with IBM and use Creek Watch to monitor the thousands of miles of creeks and steams across its jurisdiction.

With the app in use in 25 countries so far, IBM researchers hope that Creek Watch adoption will continue to grow across the globe. "The iPhone's GPS system automatically ties each Creek Watch submission to a precise location, allowing water experts anywhere in the world to find local data to use for critical water management decisions," said Jeff Pierce, who leads the mobile computing research team at IBM's Almaden facility and helped develop Creek Watch.

I can't help but think that this Creek Watch app is a rather good idea. Let's hope the idea will encourage other folks in the computer business to develop similar apps that will empower the general public to use their cameras for the benefit of mankind.

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