Most people think that building an app is all about sitting behind a brightly lit screen coding away in air-conditioned comfort in the confines of a towering building with lots of desks and people running around in suits. Not for some IBMers.
“I never thought I would be tramping around in knee-high grass paddocks in Kangaroo Valley in 45-degree heat on New South Wales’“hottest day on record”, said Anthony Wakim, Corporate Citizenship, for the Australian Corporate Citizenship team at IBM Sydney. “There I was, swatting flies off my face, and roaming dry, grassy paddocks in searing heat trying to find water holes to identify as locations to test out the software after the sun went down later that night.”
“It was very funny,” he says. “There was a team of about ten of us. A mixture of scientists from the Australian Museum, and IBMers. The team were testing the app in the field to make sure it was able to record and upload frog calls successfully according to the briefed in project parameters.
“The only problem was that when the sun went down, and we returned to the locations at night, with the aid of torches in dark paddocks, it attracted so much insect life I was spitting out mosquitoes, bugs and flies every five seconds,” said Anthony Wakim.
And so is the unexpected life in the IBM Australian Corporate Citizenship and iX teams in Sydney when they were collaborating with the Australian Museum on building the long-awaited FrogID app that was launched in Sydney last year.
What is the Frog ID app?
The Frog ID app, is the centre piece of the Australian Museum’s FrogID project – a research project with the aim of recording 1 million frog calls – to build a data base of frog population numbers, presence of species, and migration patterns that will paint a contemporary picture of the impact of any climate change on the biodiversity of Australia.
White-lipped Tree Frog
“It’s Australia’s first national frog count,” said Dr Jodi Rowley, from the Australian Museum. “Frogs are the metaphorical canary in the coal mine”, said Dr Rowley. “If the frogs aren’t there –we know that there has been a severe impact on waterways, ecosystems and that the biodiversity of life in the area has been compromised,” she said.
“The FrogID app helps identify and map different frog species by the unique sounds they make or their “audio DNA”. These recordings will provide data on the health of Australia’s frog populations and identify species that are at risk, to assist and inform future conservation efforts,” said Dr Rowley.
So how did IBM become involved in the project?
Crucifix Frog, NSW
“Our relationship with the Australian Museum started around 30 years ago,” said Bettina Cutler, Citizenship Manager for the FrogID project and long time IBMer. “Way back when I started at IBM, we already had a relationship with the Australian Museum in supporting their projects. Then in 2015, we had a conversation, and they asked for our assistance to build a platform for their Teachers Try Science website –and from there, the FrogID app development was a natural transition.”
“They had the idea and the need. We had the technology and expertise. They formally requested support in the form of an Impact Grant –and after the application went through the due diligence process –we collaborated with the team of scientists to produce this amazing little app –which is so information dense, but so simple to use,” said Bettina.
“The iX Sydney Studio worked alongside the Australian Museum for over 18 months to bring the app to life, which means every request, fine-tuned nuance and seemingly so simple (but often so complicated to execute) request.”
“As we all know, your idea can start out from one point, and as it unfolds, it can take different turns and twists along the process –no matter how strictly confined the brief may be,” said Bettina. “Our combined teams had a lot of fun developing it,” she said.
“Usually when you provide Impact grants its difficult to communicate exactly what your consulting hours or resources are actually going towards. You are not producing something that is physically tangible. It can’t be clearly defined with something you can see and hold. With the FrogID app, it’s different. This is a project we can definitely see, and work with and proudly stand up and say “we are part of this project.”
How does the Frog ID app work?
Pair of Green-thighed Frogs
There are over 240 species of known Frogs in Australia. Using the app to record and upload frog calls will capture information about different species, their locations and habitats and record time and location data, using GPS technology.
Each frog call recorded, will be uploaded to the Australian Museum database and users will be given the pictorial resources to have a stab at identifying the frog for themselves. The species of frog via their frog call will be confirmed from one of the Australian Museum research experts.
“Initially we were hoping to identify the frog calls within a 7-day time frame. But then we thought, what if we get inundated with frog calls? What if the project is such a success we have to have a full-time team of researchers listening to frog calls day and night –we might not be able to get through the work load! So the Australian Museum won’t commit to a definite turn around time till we know what we are dealing with,” said Bettina Cutler.
The employees of IBM Australia are getting on board. A call to arms of the IBM ‘frog army’ will help to contribute to the project by getting families and senior citizens outside frogging with the kids after sunset to help the Australian Museum reach their target of 1 million frog call uploads in the first year. There is also the opportunity to volunteer to be trained by the Australian Museum as a frog call expert.
“It’s kind of a more educational version of Pokemon Go,” laughs Anthony Wakim. “Harnessing people power through citizen science groups like the IBM ‘Frog Army’ is critical to the success of the project. Unless we gather and assess the data –we won’t know how to solve this critical environmental issue. Saving frogs from the threats of disease, habitat loss, climate change and urbanisation is an urgent mission –Australia’s native frog species are in trouble, and we need to act fast.”
As of June 2018:
159 of the 240 Australian frog species have been mapped
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