Saturday, 30 May 2015

Bird-safe mode

Summer is here, the birds are singing, and so are a multitude of bird apps on mobile devices. Playing bird calls on a mobile device or tablet may seem like a harmless bit of fun and even educational, but from the bird's point of view it is very different.

As soon as bird sounds start to play, nearby birds are distracted from feeding their young, and expend their energy looking for the phantom intruder. Most nature reserves discourage or even ban the use of mobile devices on their sites to protect the wellbeing and longevity of their birdlife. And it's also bad news for other birdwatchers who don't know if they are listening to a real bird or not.

But the problem is that it just isn't possible to use an automatic birdsong identifier without playing sounds loudly. You need to listen to your recording and listen to the matching sounds, to see if this is indeed the bird that you can hear.

That's why we came up with the idea of Bird-safe mode for Chirpomatic. When Bird-safe mode is switched on, you simply hold the phone to your ear as though making a phone call in order to hear the sounds. The best thing is that the sounds don't start playing until the device is next to your ear, so you don't miss anything. It is actually much easier to hear the sounds this way, so it is a win for the user and a win for the birds!

We are now going to add Bird-safe mode to our other apps as we update them, so that all our apps can be enjoyed with a clear conscience, without disturbing the birds or other birdwatchers!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Chirpomatic: automatic birdsong identification!

We are delighted to announce our latest app, Chirpomatic, an automatic birdsong identifier!

Chirpomatic works rather like Shazam® does for music. When you hear a bird, quickly hold up your phone and start recording. After 10 seconds, the app will start analysing the sound, and will show you the top matches along with photos of the birds and notes to tell you  how varied the sound can be. You can compare your recording with the reference samples to check the identification.

The first version of the app covers bird calls and songs of parks and gardens in north-west Europe, and is currently available in English, German (Zwitschomat) and Swedish (Kvitteromat). We are already working on versions for North America, starting with backyard birds of the west coast USA, particularly California. If you would like to be told when the US versions are ready, you can sign up here.

The app works entirely off-line so you can use it wherever you are without worrying about network connections. The recordings you make are stored in the app so you can listen again, you can email them, or upload them to us. The recordings that you send us will be used to improve the app, and will also be made available to researchers.

As with all the iSpiny apps, Chirpomatic has been developed by myself and Alex Wilson. Alex is a specialist in machine learning and is currently completing his PhD at Oxford University. We also had advice from Dr Phil Howard, data scientist at a major games company.

We've been working on Chirpomatic since the end of 2013, but the road to a Shazam-style app for bird sounds is littered with highly publicised projects that failed to be completed, so we didn't announce it until we were absolutely sure that we would be able to finish it! And now we can celebrate!

If you would like to find out more about Chirpomatic, tap here for the App Store.

Shazam® is the registered trademark of Shazam Entertainment Limited and is not affiliated with iSpiny in any way.