UC Berkeley, Texas A&M Multi-User Game Is for the Birds

A collaborative online multimedia system developed by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and Texas A&M University puts an unusual assortments of technologies--including the Web, video, photography, and game technology--together in pursuit of an even more unusual quarry: exotic birds.

The new system, which debuts this week, is technically a massively multi-user online game that will allow groups of players to earn points by taking live photos using a single remotely controllable robotic video camera to classify wild birds they see.  

The technology behind the game, called Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments-Sutro Forest (CONE Sutro Forest), was developed by Ken Goldberg, a UC Berkeley professor of engineering, and Dezhen Song, assistant professor of computer science at Texas A&M.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Goldberg, Song, and their students have been working for several years on systems that allow "collaborative control" of a camera's movements by multiple users over the Internet.

"This is a new kind of massive multi-player online game," said Goldberg. "Rather than aiming a gun at virtual enemies, players aim a camera at live wild birds." The system uses a collaborative control interface that allows dozens of people to simultaneously share remote control of a pan-tilt-zoom video camera, according to the Berkeley press office.

This leaves open the possibility of an electronic tug of war over the camera, the researchers concede. While one user might want to point the camera at a Blue Jay, if a majority of the players direct the camera elsewhere, the system favors the more popular choice.  The system waits until the photo is classified consistently by at least two players, and assigns points according to how rare the bird is. Players with higher scores get more influence over where the video camera is positioned.

Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, is hosting the robotic video camera project from the back deck of his home, which overlooks Sutro Forest in San Francisco.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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