We all know people who seem to spend more time gazing into their smartphones than they do looking at the reality in front of them. But one app is trying to reverse the trend, and make your iPhone (or Android) into a tool that encourages you to dial into the biodiversity around you.
It’s called Project Noah (the “NOAH” stands for “Networked Organisms and Habitats”), and its creator is a guy named Yasser Ansari, a self-described bio-geek-turned-telecom nerd.
The app allows you to take a picture of a flower, animal, or other living creature, helps you identify it, and tells you about other wildlife that might be in the area. Upload your shot and it will show up on a global map with the observations of other users.
“Imagine a field guide for every type of organism on the planet, a butterfly net, and a quick and easy way to grab field notes, thrown on top of [a smartphone],” says Ansari in a presentation. “My vision for this is part Darwin’s field guide, part vintage science instrument, and a dollop of biopunk/steampunk for good measure.”
Top users so far include a nine-year-old home-schooled girl in New Zealand and a teacher from Spain who has logged more than 1,200 spottings.
Some of the sightings are exotic, but some — squirrels, cows, pansies — are much more everyday. Ansari says that taking a closer look at the living things around us, no matter how common, is all about combating “nature deficit disorder”: “I’m trying to bring back that [childlike] wonderment,” he says. “I’m trying to reignite that curiosity for the natural world that we all had when we were younger.”