Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free iphone app for the Gulf rescue of oiled birds and animals

After listening to the President's speech on the biggest oil disaster in US history with immense negative environmental and economic consequences and even psychological ones, I was heartened to hear that even thousands of miles away positive, constructive action was being taken through an iphone app that was developed by my colleagues in computer science, public policy, ecology and biology at UMass Amherst. The app enables the rescue of those most helpless and unfortunate and that is the birds and animals that are being covered in the oil spreading in the Gulf of Mexico.

The UMass Amherst researchers hope that the app, called MoGO, will draw on the large network of “citizen scientists” who are as heartbroken as they are to witness the disaster for marine life and who are actively looking for ways to help save wildlife along the 14,000 miles of northern Gulf coastline.

The new app allows anyone who finds an oiled animal to be linked automatically by the phone to the Wildlife Hotline and to provide photos of the stranded animal and its GPS location coordinates to a database here on campus.

Whether the project succeeds rests on how well the word gets out to the public in the Gulf region, the researchers note, so I am trying to do my part to disseminate this simple but powerful technical innovation to harness citizen scientists in saving the affected fauna. Any person, on land or at sea, wishing to use the free app for their iPhone can go to for more information.

According to the UMass press release:

The app takes advantage of “mobile crowdsourcing,” that is, the power of smart personal mobile devices to provide thousands of eyes and ears on the ground. Professor Ganesan who is a computer scientist at UMass Amherst and his research group designed a software framework called “mCrowd,” which simplifies the usual weeks- to months-long process of developing a new mobile crowdsourcing app. “It provides easy-to-use templates that can be tailored to a new application,” Ganesan explains. His mCrowd technology allowed the UMass Amherst team to create the MoGO app and infrastructure in a little more than a week.