Cybertracker pioneered the development of handheld computers for the collection of biodiversity data (time, place, species, age, behavior, etc.) using Palm Pilots in the late 1990s. The software automatically records location, based on the integrated GPS unit, and time while the user indicates species, behavior, etc. from icon menus. Data are uploaded to a PC where they can be accessed via a spreadsheet or custom software that allows the user to make maps of observations and correct for effort to estimate observation density. The integrated software/hardware/analysis package set the global standard because it is configurable and has been adapted for a wide range of field tasks including citizen science, health surveys, disaster relief, farming and crime monitoring. Here I discuss the evolution of the Cybertracker approach, concentrating on some specific developments with smart phones.
The field guide functionality of smart phone software far exceeds that of Cybertracker. The most advanced are bird guides that take advantage of the digital format by including images, sounds and search functions. Birding apps are often as expensive as paper field guides ($30) but some publishers offer limited taxonomical content (just owls) or limited location content (just New England) at reduced costs ($2 to $5). National Audubon Guides from Green Mountain Digital are the only commercial products that offers some options to report observations and store images. Currently, however, the software is not very functional.
Perhaps the most novel among the bird guide apps is BirdsEye which draws information from Cornell’s eBird website. Users can quickly learn what birds have been seen locally. BirdsEye also includes bird descriptions, images and calls. BirdsEye is promising to allow reporting of observations to eBird from the field, which would make it a very modern web-based version of Cybertracker, but this functionality has not appeared yet.
CENS “What’s Invasive” Project offers a glimpse of the potential to link cell phone reporting with a web-based back-end while giving scientists the flexibility to create their own projects. After establishing an account, users upload up images and data for upto ten invasive species for any geographic location of their choosing. Observers can then view this species data on their cell phones and upload location and images from the field when they find a match.
The integrated approach achieved by Cycbertracker is not currently available using the updated smart phones and web technologies, but several projects are moving in that direction.