Pattern recognition is very, very hard for computers to do. Even when they’ve been well programmed, a shift in angle, different lighting, or overlapping objects can throw an algorithm completely off. However, humans have evolved some incredibly efficient pattern recognition techniques that we’re not even conscious of using. That’s why so many citizen science projects seek to harness the power of our identify-on-sight brains to help sort through large amounts of data.
In this case, Snapshot Serengeti is asking folks to help identify the animals captured in their motion-sensitive cameras stationed in Tanzania.
They are surveying the animals found in different regions and over the course of different seasons. Each camera is set up to only take a picture when something warm moves, so most of the pictures have animals of some kind in them (although some of them are just tree branches blowing in the wind). But as the picture above shows, you’re never sure what kind of shot you’re going to get!
The control interface for identifying the animals is one of the most helpful and intuitive that I’ve seen, and the short tutorial demo walks you through it in just a few minutes. If you’re not sure exactly what animal you’re seeing, you can search by fur color, pattern, horn style, tail, and others. Once you’ve identified the animals, it asks you to identify how many of them are in the picture and what they’re doing (standing, moving, eating, etc.)
Given the ease of use and the inherent interest in looking at pictures of animals, I’d say that this would be a fun project for elementary school kids and older. They’ll learn about different kinds of animals, learn to examine a photo to spot important details, and get a feel for how the animals interact with their environment—all while helping the University of Minnesota Lion Project.
Camera traps like this take time and money to operate. Snapshot Serengeti has set up a clever fundraising site called Save the Memes! The idea is that all those cute animal pictures on the internet have to come from somewhere, and without the Snapshot Serengeti pictures we might run out! That site includes a meme generator, the results of which you can see above. And it’s another potentially fun thing for kids to play with while they’re learning about animals and science.