Friday, November 9, 2012

Field book - there is an app for that

For many years there was only one way to keep track of field data during expeditions and collecting trips. Explorer and scientists alike used field books and I remember well my second year at university when a professor tried to explain the importance of proper field data written in special field books to us students. Not that we really listened but when it came to the first own collecting trips some of us remembered that we had been told what to keep track of and how to do it. Everything was of course not digital. A notebook and a pencil would do it. Not that there weren't any computers and even laptops available but even today I find a laptop in the field rather bulky. As a result I still take notes in a little notebook and transfer those into an electronic spreadsheet at night. 

But we have the age of mobile phones, tablets, and other gadgets. So what would be more obvious than using those tools to collect all data.

The DNA Barcoding Assistant is a mobile technician application that provides an intuitive interface to acquire specimen metadata that contain provisional user-assigned taxonomic identifications, digital images, geospatial data, and collection event details for specimens obtained in the field. In other words the basic data required for proper DNA Barcode library assembly.  The specimen records created with the DNA Barcoding Assistant can be stored and converted into an Excel spreadsheet which can be send out via the standard email app. Imported text and linked image data can then be authenticated, edited, and uploaded to the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) using its standard processes.

This tool is already available for a while but only for the iPhone and I have to admit that I am not a member of the fellowship of the Apple. However, I currently have the privilege to test the beta version of the Android version on my tablet, and it is a really neat little tool. I love to be able to include an image into every record. It used to be a problem to keep track of image file name and associated specimen as it added another layer of complexity to the field data collection. Now I use the phone or the tablet to make images and link them to my data on the spot. Similarly geospatial information is retrieved through the build-in GPS of most gadgets. This is a huge time saver and it minimizes the chance of error creeping in while copying data from field book to spreadsheet to database.

It is my hope that this tool and similar ones are used more often and tested in the field by researchers and students. I know that for the hardcore collector there can't be enough data fields but only with the help of a user community these tools can get better adapted to the needs of every single one. I can only encourage iPhone owner to get it from from the app store. Android users - stay tuned - shouldn't take much longer.


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