Animesh Pathak's Crazy Ideas

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Who Tweeted That? A Proposal for inter-disciplinary Research

[No, this is not about the latest means of communication, rather, about something which has been in vogue for about 150 million years.

Motivation and Context

Often as I am walking in my neighborhood or near my lab (which is next to a forest), I hear bird calls, and wonder what bird is trying to communicate with its peers. Now, if it were a celestial object, I would have whipped out my phone and used Google Sky Maps, but alas, there is no such app for bird calls. Hence this proposal/idea.

The proposed system

My idea is rather simple, at least in terms of a user interface. Quite similar to apps like Shazam which let users find out more about a song they are hearing. Basically, it should work like this from the user's perspective:

  • I install the app
  • When I hear a birdcall, I click "record" and point my phone toward it
  • When done, I click the "upload" button
  • I get the information about the bird (Name, Wikipedia link, samples of bird calls. etc.) on my phone :)

Paying for the app

Now, apps like Shazam make money when people end up buying the songs that they recognize using the app. For the app being proposed here, there is no such revenue stream. However, the users can 'pay' by uploading the location of the phone (and consequently, the bird) when they upload the bird-call. Of course, the system should not store any other data which is personal, but the location can be very useful to secure funding to create this system (see below).

The players behind the curtain

I feel that in order to provide the functionality proposed above, several unanswered questions will need to be addressed by specialists of several disciplines:

  • Ornithologists, who can provide the information about existing samples of bird calls, as well as locations where they are commonly found, so as to quicken the search. They will, in turn, gain valuable data about where the various bird calls were heard (by virtue of the location uploaded by the users), which might lead to interesting discoveries.
  • Computer Scientists, who will have to solve the problems of performing the search at large scales while being responsive enough so as not to bore a smart phone user :).
  • Mathematicians/Digital-Signal-Processing researchers, who will have to propose ways to model bird calls for easy searching, as well as propose compression techniques suited for audio which is neither voice nor music.

So, do you think the above idea makes sense? Is there an NSF/NIH/EC call where this can be proposed? Do you know of researchers who would be interested in working on this? Let me know in the comments.