Discovery Magazine

Photo Credit: Ronaldo Menezes

Frog Call Identification App for Smartphone and Tablet

Research scientists from Biological Sciences and Computer Science are collaborating to produce the Whatfrog application (app) for smartphones and tablets that would identify anuran calls (toad and frog calls, hereafter frog calls). Precipitous declines in anuran populations have triggered interest in expanding the existing databases of their distributions. The ideal means to increase data coverage  is to put out sensors that would detect frogs, or have highly trained researchers conduct surveys. However, both these options are cost-prohibitive. A more cost-effective means to gather these data is to take advantage of the many volunteers interested in the fate of anurans. The limitation to date has been the time-consuming and inherently variable success in training those volunteers to recognize frog calls. In the proposed research, machine-learning algorithms and statistical analysis of sonograms will be used to provide reproducible, standardized identification of frog calls in real time.

WhatFrog, a novel use of mobile devices (e.g. iPods, smartphones and tablets) is being developed to identify and map anurans. The vocal recognition software will be developed as an application (app) for mobile devices. By producing an efficient and intuitive app, whichintegrates with an accompanying social network, an army of potential volunteers can be involved in mapping the abundance and range of anurans. The Whatfrog project takes advantage of cutting-edge technology in terms of voice recognition, connectivity and social media; its purpose is not to advance any one of those branches of technology. Rather it applies existing technology in a novel way to increase participation in this aspect of citizen science by more than an order of magnitude; brings the cost of automated voice recognition down by almost three orders of magnitude (from close to $1000 to ~$1). Whatfrog will provide a standardized means to recognize frog calls, thereby improving data quality and the reliability of data gathered by volunteers.

By using modern social media and portable device technology, the goal of Whatfrog is to engage a younger audience. The affordability of the system will make it appropriate for classroom use, and it has the potential to spur studies in ecology, physics, geography, and math, as the students consider the data, sonograms, and maps that the software will produce. Through active dissemination we believe this app could quickly be adopted by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of users, many of whom would never have paid attention to frog calls, but could now be new contributors to citizen science.