Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Augmented Reality in Citizen Science to Connect with Reality

By August 1st, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Comment

Illustration by Mark Catesby 1731

Illustration by Mark Catesby 1731

Fables are fun ways to accept insights into our own lives. Fairy tales are enjoyable ways to inspire hope. Augmented reality games that overlay fantasy directly onto reality are a blast, plus they create a powerful lens to understand ourselves and the world. Citizen science is a lens on the world too. The intersection of augmented reality technology and citizen science could turn science fiction ideas into science non-fiction.

The potential for overlap seems great because of the similarities between citizen science activities and Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game played on mobile phones. First, the resemblance between players of Pokémon Go and centuries old natural historians run pretty deep. Natural historians, today and in the past, have been obsessed with finding biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth. Children of the 21st century seek to find the variety of Nintendo creatures, let’s call them Pokéversity. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” the motto of the Pokémon series, is not different from the silent mantra, “one more bird,” resounding in the minds of birdwatchers keeping life-lists.

pokemonGo_pinkachuSecond, as mimics of wild animals, each Pokémon species is unique and has a backstory of its natural history. The Pokémon mascot, Pikachu, is a rotund rodent that dwells in forests. A Pikachu has yellow fur, long ears with black tips, rosey circles on its pouched cheeks, and tails shaped like lightening bolts.

Third, the official inventory, Pokedex, provides details about each Pokémon, its traits, behaviors, and life cycle, much like official species accounts in the Birds of North America. Plus, like John James Audubon, Pokémon fans have created illustrated books to help identify the little monsters, like the Field Guide to Kanto by Kari Fry, an illustrated natural history of Pokémon creatures.

Fourth, conservation biologists and environmental educators who add engagement goal to citizen science envy the capacity of Pokémon Go to stimulate the curiosity of children. When in danger, a Pikachu will release an electric charge from its glands. With traits like that, how can real wildlife compete for public attention? According to one study, by age 8, kids can identify far more species of Pokémon than common native wildlife. The researchers found that young children have enormous capacity for learning about flora and fauna, but that conservation biologists – or whoever we might assign this responsibility – are not inspiring kids to learn about real, living and breathing things. The study results motivated the creation of Phylomon, a trading card game with real animals instead of Nintendo creatures.

Despite the overlap, advocates for nature-based experiences are still steps behind Nintendo. It is Pokémon Go that is getting kids (of all ages) to leave their rooms, use their legs, and pursue and capture a menagerie of fantasy critters like Pikachu and Squirtle, Zubats, Paras, and Caterpies. Pokémon Go rouses people out of their homes and into city centers, historical places, and nature centers. As Pokémon Go and citizen science activities kindle the spirit of natural historians, both tap the human desire to search and discover, rely on the thrill of using gadgets to see what is otherwise invisible, and instill feelings of belonging that comes from being part of something bigger. The fantasy world of Pokémon Go, overlaid onto our real world, ignites human imagination. Could using augmented reality spark human imagination about the natural world?

One way citizen science can leverage augmented reality technology is recruitment. Pokémon Go gets people out and about where they might notice more about their real-world environment.  Players are encountering injured wildlife and delivering to rehabilitation centers. Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz, modelled after BioBlitz which are citizen science events where people identify and catalog as many species as possible in a given place. Similarly, Kayte Smith created the hashtag #PokemonGoIRL (In the Real World). Both #PokeBlitz and #PokemonGoIRL are a foot in the door for more people to enter citizen science projects, like those with iNaturalist, the app most frequently used for BioBlitzes.pokemonGo_tweets1

Another area where citizen science can use augmented reality technology is with protocols for volunteer data collection. Many projects want observations from specific places, and it is possible to direct people to those locations with an augmented reality app. For example, FotoQuest is a gamified citizen science project focused on documenting land-use change by gathering geo-located photographs taken by volunteers. The app guides people to exact points where they take photos guided by augmented reality technology to position their camera. For example, in Austria, there has not been proper inventory of wetlands, and FotoQuest volunteers are making this possible.

Another area where citizen science can make use of augmented reality technology is data visualization. Imagine augmented reality apps allowing you to enter landscapes that are graphs of data. For example, imagine taking projections of sea level rise and making it possible to stand 30 miles from the coast and look at your feet and see via an augmented reality app whether or not your feet, ankles, or knees would be wet in that location in 30 years. Augmented reality apps could help us see the many features of our world that we cannot otherwise see, like radio, cell phone and wi-fi waves which are outside the visible spectrum. Architecture of Radio is an augmented reality app that allows you to visualize radio waves and cellular signals and other digital signatures.

In the next #CitSciChat, we’ll explore ways that citizen science projects can use augmented reality technology.  Join the conversation on Twitter during the next #CitSciChat on 3 August at Noon ET. During this 1-hour Q&A session, we’ll hear from the following guest panelists:

Kate Jones (@ProfKateJones) from UCL

Karen James (@kejames) from Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Lila Higgins (@lilamayhiggins) from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Scott Loarie (@loarie) of iNaturalist (@iNaturalist)

Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus) from University of Guelph, host of @BreakingBio

Lea Shell (@VeganBugLady) from NCSU @YourWild_Life

If you don’t use Twitter, you can follow the stream here: http://www.carencooper.com/lets-talk.html

 

Poké Around With Citizen Science

By July 22nd, 2016 at 1:39 am | Comment

It's taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s taking the world by storm. How can citizen science benefit? (Credit: Eduardo Woo/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Jennifer Cutraro

By now, you’ve surely seen, heard about, or even joined the hordes of people wandering about outdoors,  phones held right in front of their faces. In the two weeks since Pokémon Go’s release, there’s been much ado about the game: how it gets people outdoors, how it promotes physical activity, how it’s already sparked a robust community of haters, and the risks of playing the game without paying attention to your surroundings.

Risks aside, I’m not the first to be jumping-up-and-down excited about the educational and research opportunities this presents. Within days of Pokémon Go’s launch, entomologist Morgan Jackson created the hashtag #PokeBlitz — a clever mashup of Pokémon and BioBlitz, a type of time-limited biodiversity scavenger hunt. He and a community of scientists and educators are using it on Twitter to help other gamers identify the IRL — in real life — plants and animals they encounter while on their Pokémon adventures. It’s a great way to learn about the plants and animals that share your neighborhood.

Pokémon Go also presents a great opportunity for citizen science — if you’re already out looking for charmeleon and poliwrath, you can contribute to one of many projects around the country looking for information about the (actual)  plants, animals, and even stars you see right in your neighborhood. Here are some projects to help you get started:

If you have no idea what kind of tree, bird, or mushroom you’ve found, that’s  no problem. After you share a photo on Twitter with the #PokeBlitz hashtag, send it along to iNaturalist, where a team of amateur naturalists can also help identify the species you found. iNaturalist has a free app that makes it easy for you to share photos with their community, including a “Help Me ID This Species” button. Every photograph you share with iNaturalist contributes valuable data to scientists monitoring species occurrences around the world. Browse their site to check out photos of plants and animals others in your local community have shared with iNaturalist — a simple and easy way to learn more about nature right in your neighborhood.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds program is a good starting point for both learning to identify common birds across the country and contributing information about your local species to this important citizen science program. If birds aren’t your thing, take time to smell the flowers, then share the flower’s location and life cycle stage with Project BudBurst, a nationwide phenology monitoring program with a robust collection of curriculum and other materials for educators and families. You can also help scientists learn more about seasonal migration by sending information about songbirds, butterflies, and other species you stumble upon at your PokéStop to Journey North.

If you’re out in the evening, count the number of stars you see for GLOBE at Night, a campaign measuring light pollution around the world. You also can use your phone’s camera to record light pollution levels in your area, data the folks at the Dark Sky Meter project would really like to have. And if you’re lucky enough to see fireflies when you’re outdoors, please share that information with our friends over at Firefly Watch.

To be fair, there’s no shortage of opinion about Pokémon Go — what it means for meaningful outdoor experience, the place of technology in the outdoors, whether it just provides another way to disengage from the world around us. In a thoughtful piece in the New York Times, Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-RIch Life, shares his nuanced perspective on how we might consider Pokémon Go’s potential to encourage people to explore nature. He offers us all a simple frame of reference:  

“Here’s a litmus test: how long does it take a person to look up from the screen and actually experience the natural world?”

To me, that’s a helpful and practical lens through which to view any piece of technology or media. Whether it’s watching TV, playing a game, hanging out on social media or, yes, playing Pokémon Go, we all need to look away from the screen from time to time. You might be more likely to do just that if you also turn your Pokémon Go adventure into an opportunity to get to know your actual neighborhood, learn a little about nature, and contribute to science research along the way.


Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!

The gamification of data analysis in cancer increases citizen contribution and reduces research time

By February 11th, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Comment

Individuals diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer face a difficult treatment decision – intensive radiotherapy or complete surgical removal of their bladder. Each option has benefits and draw backs, and there are limited data available to patients and physicians to help predict which treatment might provide the best outcome.

Dr. Anne Kiltie, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Oxford University and Clinical Group Leader at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is trying to improve that decision making process. She is investigating whether proteins involved in DNA damage signaling and repair might serve as biological indicators, or ‘biomarkers’, predictive of a patient’s response to treatment.

In 2010 her team published data showing that higher levels of the DNA repair protein MRE11 correlated with better survival rates in bladder cancer patients who had undergone radiotherapy. This was a critical finding suggesting that MRE11 could be a treatment predictive biomarker. Unfortunately the finding relied on time consuming pathology analysis. Bladder tumor samples are sliced, labeled for each protein of interest and photographed. While the staining and imaging of these slices can be automated, each image must be manually quantified for the level of protein present. Computer algorithms are not yet as reliable as the human eye. So to study just one protein, Kiltie’s team must individually score hundreds of images, a major time sink.

Of course if there was a way to get more people involved, the research could proceed much faster.

And this is the basis of Reverse the Odds, a mobile app game in which citizens help with real data analysis. The game was the result of CRUK’s partnership with British television broadcaster Channel 4 and developed in collaboration with Chunk, Maverick Television, and Zooniverse.

“Developing this game was a new experience for both our researchers and the game developers,” says Rupesh Robinson-Vyas, Science Engagement and Operations Officer at CRUK. The development team had some key concerns.  Could a game that dealt with a serious topic like cancer still be approachable and fun? And could the data analysis be gamified without compromising the quality of analysis?

Yes and yes.

The final product is a puzzle game in which players help whimsical creatures, ‘Odds’ reclaim their world. Rather than hide the science, the game developers put the science front and center. To level up, players visit the ‘lab’ where they learn to quantify protein expression in real bladder tumor samples. All the samples are from patients who have already undergone treatment. Players are not diagnosing patients.

Each image is reviewed by multiple players, with each player’s response being compared to other players’ responses. In this way discrepancies in analysis are weeded out. After the images are quantified, the data are sent back to Kiltie’s team who compare the level of protein expression to the patient’s known outcome. img2

Not only has the game cut down on data processing time, Kiltie’s team can concurrently evaluate the expression level of multiple proteins. This means the relationships between proteins, how they might work together to affect treatment outcome can also be studied.

As for the seriousness of the subject matter, rather than a deterrent, the science and the potential to make a significant contribution to cancer research is a strong motivator for game play.

“It was an unexpected outcome. The game allowed us to engage a younger age group, individuals who might not be able to contribute financially, could instead contribute their time,” says Robinson-Vyas. The game has been a huge success, translated into five languages, with an international reach of 150 countries.

CRUK is testing new methods of training and presenting pathology data to users. “Rather than asking our users just one question, the new interactive will teach us how to ask questions and identify what kind of data our users can help us collect,” says Robinson-Vyas.  Results with citizen scientists matching pathologist’s accuracy in data analysis are encouraging; CRUK is writing a paper on these methods and plans to test further iterations.

As for Reverse the Odds, Kiltie’s team hopes to complete data collection this spring. Her team intends to make the results as well as background on game development openly available.

Visit the project page to learn more about Reverse the Odds and join the effort help Kiltie’s team analyze the final 500,000 slides by March.

Learn about CRUK’s other project Play to Cure: Genes in Space

Additional Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20843819

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24625413

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26288840

‘Tis the Season! 12 Days of Christmas with Citizen Science

By December 23rd, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Comment

Photo: John Ohab
12 Days of Christmas
The holiday season is upon us! In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together another edition of our ever popular annual 12 Days of Christmas Newsletter.

Cheers!
The SciStarter Team

On the 1st Day of Christmas, Treezilla gave to me:
A measuring tape around a pear tree, as I measured and mapped the trees of Great Britain. Get started!

On the 2nd Day of Christmas, iSTOR gave to me:
Two reports of sea turtles, from citizen scientist observers worldwide. Get started!

Read the rest of this entry »

Playing It Safe Online: NOVA Cybersecurity Lab Trains You to Carefully Navigate the Web

By March 2nd, 2015 at 10:10 pm | Comment

cyberpromo-facebook header

With our ever-increasing connectivity and reliance on the internet, cybersecurity is a growing concern. Despite all the cautionary warnings about cyber safety, individuals, companies and government agencies still fall victim to attack.

So what does it take to stay safe? NOVA, in partnership with computer scientists and cybersecurity experts, created the Cybersecurity Lab, a digital platform designed to teach people about cyber threats and how to improve their own cybersecurity. Read the rest of this entry »