While traditional nature guides may never go out of style, tech savvy nature lovers can now use their iPhones to discover the world around them.
Thanks to West Virginia University alumnus Jason Siniscalchi, there’s an app for that.
Three apps, actually, that give users access to extensive databases for identifying flora and fauna around them – all with the swipe of a finger.
Siniscalchi, who earned a doctorate degree in forest resources sciences from the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said Fish ID, Garden ID and Tree ID were born from his love of nature and technology.
“In 2003 and 2004, while working on my doctorate I would often go to the arboretum to walk around and collect my thoughts,” he said. “Though the trees are labeled for you, I thought it would be helpful to have a tree guide to carry with me, except I wanted to use technology.”
During a time when the Pocket PC was the “in” handheld device, Siniscalchi, a research social scientist at the United States Coast Guard Academy Leadership Development Center, began building the Tree ID database, collecting information on North American trees and their characteristics. Although he enjoyed doing the research and seeing the database grow, the project hit a snag.
“Not being much of a programmer, I was only able to develop a very rudimentary application to identify the trees,” he said. “Unfortunately, due to my lack of knowledge in writing programs, the project died.”
Fast forward three years; say hello to the first generation iPhone, and to MEDL Mobile’s application incubator.
The company, Siniscalchi explained, was soliciting ideas for apps they would develop, market and sell with the inventor’s input.
Would this be the avenue to finally develop Tree ID?
“I submitted my idea through the incubator and didn’t think much of it,” he said. “Three months later I received a rejection e-mail including reasons why they couldn’t make the app – one of which was not having access to a database of trees.”
Siniscalchi was quick to let the company know such a database did indeed exist.
“I think they were intrigued because a month later I received another e-mail saying Tree ID and six others were selected to be the first generation of user invented apps,” he said.
The free program first became available in the iTunes store in September 2010 and was one of the top 100 reference apps for several months. The success of Tree ID paved the way for two additional apps – Garden ID and Fish ID.
Tree ID and Fish ID allow users to search by characteristics and habitat. Garden ID, however, focuses on historical freeze dates. Users are asked to provide their location and a list of garden vegetables is returned based on the available information.
Like with all technology, apps can become outdated very quickly and Sinisclachi notes it’s important to stay ahead of the game.
“We’re always improving the apps to answer suggestions of users,” he said. “In fact, TreeID is due for a major overhaul. I’ve added over 300 trees, a new binomial key, and the ability to search by specific location. I’m looking forward to working with the company, finishing the update and seeing user reviews.”
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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