Citizen Science — Aquatic Robot Division

Geek Culture

Brooklyn Atlantis robot viewBrooklyn Atlantis robot view

You can play an important role in the exploration of a strange, dank, inhospitable environment which may harbor life forms still unknown to modern science.

The place? The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, a former toxic waste dump now designated as a Superfund clean-up site.

Your job? Help researchers and students from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University identify living and inanimate objects in the canal by tagging photos posted online by an Aquatic Robotic Vehicle dubbed the Brooklyn Atlantis I.

As reported in The New York Times, starting today, the solar-powered, remote-controlled aquabot will be exploring the canal, taking readings of pH, oxygen levels, and other measures of the waterway’s health. That data, along with photos from above and beneath the water, will be uploaded to the project’s website every few seconds. Create an account or sign in with Facebookand you can help the researchers catalog the visual recordings by naming the things you see. Instructions on the website state:

But what should you be tagging? Any recognizable object! Whether it’s a tree, fish, or soda can, its fair game, so don’t hold back! By helping us tag the images from our ARV we can study and observe the canal and its wildlife right from home.

You can also create a profile if you wish and connect with friends via Facebook or the website’s own forums. As with other citizen science endeavors, the theory is that the human brain can recognize and catalog objects more accurately than computers — and the human feedback can be used to make the computers smarter. Unlike some other projects, however, your input is not just getting aggregated with everyone else’s. According to Times City Room blogger Cynthia Yee:

Anyone can tag photos and track patterns in the environmental conditions, and those who contribute frequently and accurately can graduate to greater responsibilities. Particularly avid users will eventually be able to control their own robot. (And, fair warning to the conspiracy theorists: those who eagerly tag every log and leaf “Loch Ness monster” will be weeded out.)

So help educate a robot and get to know the ecosphere of deepest darkest Brooklyn. For tutorials or to sign up, visit

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