Peter Belhumeur is a professor of computer science at Columbia University and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Visual Appearance. It was his 8-year-old son William who suggested he create an application that identifies plants using the face recognition technology he has worked on since the mid-1990s. With the help of colleagues from Columbia, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, he has done just that! Using the same algorithms that can process the curves and angles of a human face, he designed a program that will narrow down (smooth versus jagged, many-lobed or single-lobed) and determine plant species based on the shapes of their leaves. LeafSnap, an electronic field guide very useful to botanists but easy enough for a child to use, is now available free* for the iPhone and iPad, and will be available for Android phones later this year. Users - and there are already 150,000 - photograph a leaf, upload it, and see a list of possible matches within seconds, along with other characteristics (flowers, fruit, seeds and bark) to help confirm the tree's identity. Below is the data that accompanies images of the plant I chose to feature:
- Habitat:Grows in a wide variety of habitats.
- Bloom Time: Late spring.
*Leafsnap cost about $2.5 million to develop, funded primarily by a grant from the National Science Foundation.