MIT Media Lab Owl Project employs cell phones

Aug 28, 2007 6:41 pm
The goal of this work is to explore how we can use technology to augment our understanding of bird populations in order to allow these populations to speak to us about their habitat. In particular, in this collaboration between the MIT Media Laboratory and Maine Audubon , we use cellular technology to augment the process by which a group of volunteers collects information for an owl census in Maine.
The methodology was developed in a pilot census of Connecticut's owlpopulation, conducted in the summer of 2006. In this study, we demonstrated that the audio quality of cell phones was sufficient for the discovery and interaction with owls. In this project, the cell phone is used to make the owl call and to record the response. The success of the pilot suggests that this small, portable technology can replace the conventional high-quality audio survey broadcasting and recording equipment.

In our work in Maine we will deploy more cell nodes for calling owls and recording their response. We anticipate that each deployed node will result in several hours of recording per night per phone.

With this project, we hope to gain insight into the social networking processes of collaborative interpretation and annotation of a shared database; knowledge representation for the bird-census domain; and the design issues involved in creating and maintaining a website for community scientific collaboration.

The cellular survey may also provide data which suggest insights into questions about the hearing range of owls, duplication of vocalizing individual responses in adjacent experiment sites, the response rate of owls due to current weather or human presence, and comparison between trigger-based and naturally occurring responses in surveys. In addition, specific signal processing and communication technologies will be field-tested.
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