Grants/OTILS, an open tool to identify living species

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OTILS, an open tool to identify living species

Applicants: Technologies Sans Frontières (TSF)
Affiliation: Gobelins l'école de l'image, Oséo
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Hans Lemuet
Coordinator: Benoît Hap, Michel Delval (CTO)
Project Start: 2010/08/15
Project End: 2011/03/31,,,
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Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

We want to design, develop and release an open tool to identify species, starting with trees. This tool aims to be used on the field, by children or adults, so it will be available as an application on mobile platforms. Relying on an expert system, the application will ask simple questions based on the observation of a specimen: each answer filters the list of species, until there is only one left. Each confirmed observation is then recorded and geo-tagged, to be recalled later. The platform will be expandable to include more species, other plants or animals, and scenaristic elements.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

  • The working prototype will be available to free download and use, probably under New BSD licence.
  • The database of species included in the identification tool, in a standard SQL format, under CC BY 3.0.
  • All the illustrations created for the project, under CC BY 3.0.
  • A video showcasing the mobile application, under CC BY 3.0.

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

Our tool for identifying species is aimed at people interested in nature, and who want to learn more about plants that they encounter in their immediate environment.

We will provide them with an easy-to-use, portable, quick and rich tool for learning. It will be usable by children, from 8 years-old and upwards, as the texts and explanations will be novice-oriented (younger children can still use it with help from an adult).

On a larger scale, we think that the better the people know their environment, the more they want to preserve it. Unlike the moralistic message of the media, we rely on the knowledge of Nature to promote a sustainable and responsible behavior, especially among young generations.

The data and visual elements of the application can also benefit developers and graphic designers who are working in the same />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

The project started as a serious game we designed and developed within the framework of our last-year at Gobelins, the School for Image in Paris. We finished a very rough prototype, called úti, in June 2010. Now, we have finished school, but we think that some of the concepts we have created worth developing on a larger extent. So, we would like to use the experience and research we did for our school project to create a mobile application and release it in early 2011. We named this project OTILS.

Concerning the technical aspect of expert systems, we choose to team up with the NGO Technologies Sans Frontières (TSF), as they have a strong background in conceiving and developing such systems for medical diagnosis, decision support and e-learning.

For organizational convenience, the project is now officially carried by TSF, as it fits well in the missions, especially by giving access to knowledge using leading-edge, affordable technologies.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

We will of course measure the impact using all the download and utilisation metrics we can gather. We also plan to precisely monitor how end-users are interacting with the application.

We have the opportunity to test an early prototype under real conditions, since we have been selected to introduce our project at the Digital Content Expo in Tokyo (October 2010). Other tests of the prototype will be planned after that, to frequently get feedback from the targeted users.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

We are a core team of 5 students:

  • 3 graphic designers
  • 2 developers (web & mobile)

We just graduated in Digital design and production at Gobelins, the School for Image in Paris.

Our involvement in the OTILS project is partly self-sustained, as we work part-time or as freelancers. We want to keep very short iteration cycles, so we plan to meet at least once a week to review the progress, the same way we did during our school project, úti.

We will collaborate with:

  • 1 engineer, specialized in expert systems (from Technologies Sans Frontières)
  • 1 consultant for botanical knowledge, specialized in trees (from a French association, awaiting confirmation)
  • translators for localized versions (for the moment, they are not part of the current budget, as it will require specific funds, and is part of the “next steps”)

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

From the very beginning, our project is deeply rooted in the culture of openness, for two reasons:

  • we strongly believe in open source and open knowledge;
  • there are many resources about nature already available in the commons, and there are often very good.

OTILS can be divided into four steps:

  • we collect and index existing CC contents (from Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, KeyToNature, Tela Botanica, Flickr…);
  • we build a comprehensive multimedia database of tree species;
  • we create the original contents that we need (photos, illustrations...);
  • we give all products of the project to the commons.

This way, we think both the project and the community benefits from the use of Creative Commons materials, and contribute to the enrichment of open resources.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

The mobile application will be developed in ActionScript 3 and released using AIR for Android. If we port the app to the iPhone, we will use Objective-C with Cocoa for iOS.

On the server side, we will use the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).

The core team studied, during the last 4 years, user experience design, interaction design, graphic design, project management, web and mobile development. The developers are experienced in ActionScript, HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL, Python, Java and C.

For the last 2 years, we learned a lot by working part-time in creative agencies and R&D departments, as part of our apprenticeship. We will use all these skills to complete the project.

As previously stated, the expert systems expertise will be provided by TSF, and the botanical knowledge by an external consultant.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

We already identified two major challenges.

The first one is the quality and exhaustivity of the knowledge database associated to the expert system. This is a key issue as we need very precise information to ensure the reliability the system responses, while hiding this complexity for end users. To address this, we will work from the very beginning with a qualified botany expert.

The second one is developing a lightweight, cross-platform, easy to implement expert system to identify species. We know the basics and we have done much research and experimentation. We will have the chance to work on the technical design with talented, highly experienced engineers from TSF. Additionally, through Gobelins' network and our business relationships, we are confident that we will be well supported.

Thanks to Creative Commons Catalyst Grant, and the support of our other funding partners, we will be helped by specialists in these subjects, to complete the project in optimum conditions.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

Due to the non-commercial aspect of the project, we plan to sustain it in the near future through public funding, sponsorship and donations from users.

The creation of added value will be supported by the community-based data enhancement, and the progressive valuation of User-Generated-Content.

On the long run, we want to reach a business model based on paid download of additional content, sponsorship, revenue from merchandising and individual donations.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

To fill in the database, we started to develop a fully-featured, easy to use, expandable back-office for data import, editorial contents and image upload. We will start with a base of the most common tree species in Europe and Japan.

Based on this, we envision many possibilities for the future, such as including more species or creating other versions of the application for birds, flowers, butterflies, mushrooms...

Then we want to release localized versions with more species, in different languages. Our first milestone is an English and Japanese version of our early prototype in late October 2010, to be presented at the Digital Content Expo, in Tokyo. A French version will follow soon.

Another possibility is adding a location-based database of remarkable trees, to allow the users to discover those which are close to them.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

The main support we expect at first is funding: we can't have access to the experts we need without paying them, even if they agree to work at minimum cost.

The internationalization and localization of OTILS is a key element of its success, and we think that as a global organization, Creative Commons can put us in contact with translators.

We also need help promoting the project, so maybe it could be featured on

Creative Commons becoming more well-known, we also think that the financial backing of CC will have a positive impact on the project in terms of public image.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

Internally, we communicate by phone, Skype and e-mail on a daily basis. We are also meeting face-to-face at least once a week to review the progress. The workflow is managed with Basecamp (from 37signals).

Publicly, we will use the project website and Twitter to keep the public updated about our progress. we will also try to release some preview videos on Vimeo and YouTube.