Scientist Dan Stowell and communications professional Florence Wilkinson FRSA announced late last year that they had developed the technology to identify birds simply by their tweets. Keen to offer this tool to the general public, they have since created an app – Warblr – which is now available to download.
The UK boasts 500 birdwatching and ornithological societies, and a reported five million adults go bird watching in the UK every year. Warblr’s founders hope that the release of the app will help to increase interest in the natural world amongst young people in particular. They also plan to make the collected data publicly available for researchers and conservationists, to assist with monitoring and protecting our feathered friends.
Warblr works much like Shazam or SoundHound. Currently trained on existing data derived from recordings of over 220 British bird species, the app’s technology is achieving scores of up to 95% in optimum conditions. This has been externally validated through the big Brazil bird classification challenge, where the method was the clear winner among the audio-only methods, as judged against teams from all around the world.
As well as audio intelligence, Warblr now features locations intelligence enabled by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Historic mapping data from the organisation, founded in the 1930s for the study of birds in the British Isles, helps to refine the list of birds you’re likely to encounter through the app.
Here at Queen Mary University of London we’ve been at the forefront of developing this new technology for a while now, but as a scientist you don’t always get the chance to place your work directly in the hands of the general public – it’s a real privilege. And the beauty of it is that the more people who use Warblr and submit recordings to our server, the more accurate we can train our technology to become - Co-founder, Dan Stowell
The pair were looking to raise £50K to support their project on RSA Kickstarter. Despite support from Stephen Fry, over 800 backers and pledges totalling £21K, Warblr failed to hit its ambitious target. But, this story was to have a happy ending after all, thanks to a grant from Queen Mary University of London’s Innovation Fund, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which has allowed the Warblr team to complete work on the iPhone app. Available to download from the App Store today, Warblr is priced at £3.99, with the proceeds helping to fulfill the team’s ambitions to build an Android version, and to take Warblr to regions outside of the UK.
Whilst we didn’t make our target on Kickstarter, the community we built during the process have been incredible, forming a crack team of over 100 beta testers to help us refine the app, and even helping to write descriptions for the over 220 British bird species that Warblr can now recognise. I come from both a digital background, and a background of working with young people, and I’ve witnessed the growing gap between Gen Y and our natural world first hand. We sincerely hope that Warblr will help to bridge this gap - Co-founder Florence Wilkinson FRSA
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