New AI for Flora Incognita

Prof. Patrick Mäder, Projektleiter von Flora Incognita an der TU Ilmenau
Prof. Patrick Mäder, Projektleiter von Flora Incognita an der TU Ilmenau
"Flora Incognita," Germany’s most popular plant identification app, has received new artificial intelligence - as a result, the number of plant species that can be determined has tripled: Around 16,000 species can now be identified worldwide. In addition, the app, which is now available in 20 languages, now also works in offline mode, and its digital educational offering includes a wealth of new information, such as improved distribution maps of many species.

Scientists from the Technische Universität Ilmenau and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena equipped Flora Incognita with an improved technological basis of self-learning deep neural networks. Prof. Patrick Mäder, head of the Data Intensive Systems and Visualization Group and project leader of Flora Incognita at TU Ilmenau, and the research team from Jena have put a lot of effort into developing innovative machine learning training methods for these networks in recent months. "We applied them right away to the Flora Incognita app, and as a result millions of images of plants worldwide could be processed in our data center at TU Ilmenau. With the right images, the new networks are now able to classify many plant species with an accuracy of almost 100 percent."

For the new app version, usability and accessibility have also been improved. For example, plant detections can now be created without receiving a net and can later be automatically determined. A new game-like element has also been introduced: Users can collect badges for documenting certain plant groups. In this way, they not only enjoy collecting plants themselves over a long period of time, they also raise awareness of biodiversity in their environment. At the same time, the app thus provides an incentive to also document species or other plant groups that are already known, which provides scientists with important data.

Another new feature is the ability to use Flora Incognita to carry out citizen science projects. This allows laypeople to track the distribution of certain invasive species in a region, map special trees, or document the diversity of plant species on school grounds, for example. The project managers regularly receive the anonymized observation data from such initiatives for scientific and nature conservation evaluation.

But it is not only the technology of the Flora-Incognita app that has improved. The data basis and the deposited information have also been expanded. Citizen scientists, i.e. interested laypersons, have also contributed to this. Using the "Flora Capture" app, which was specially developed for the scientific documentation of plants, thousands of images from specific perspectives have already been transmitted, which have contributed to a significant improvement in the identification accuracy of the German flora, especially critical plant groups such as sweet grasses. Students from the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt participated in the recording of thousands of trees, so that identification is now also possible in winter on the basis of bud images. Further significant data for the expansion of the determinable species were provided by the authors of the work "African Plants - A Photo Guide", and staff members of the Geisenheim University of Applied Sciences and the Dresden University of Applied Sciences.

Co-project leader Dr. Jana Wäldchen from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena announced that the information offered in the app will be further expanded in the coming months: "We plan to supplement the plant profiles with additional exciting facts. We are thinking, for example, of information on how pollinator-friendly a species is, or whether it is invasive. In this way, we want to provide our users with practical plant knowledge after they have identified the plants." Germany’s most popular plant identification app is also used by educators at schools and universities to support teaching. Since school devices rarely have mobile Internet, this target group in particular benefits from the new offline mode.

About Flora Incognita

The Flora Incognita app was developed as a joint project of the TU Ilmenau and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena. It was funded from 2014 to 2020 by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and from 2014 to 2019 by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation with funds from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Stiftung Naturschutz Thüringen. The Flora Incognita project was a research project for the implementation of the National Strategy on Biological Diversity.

The follow-up project "Flora Incognita++" is also a joint project of the TU Ilmenau and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena. It is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation with funds from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection and by the Thuringian Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Nature Conservation.