Plant Data Collector: a field biologist’s personal assistant

Jere Boudell is a professor of biology at Clayton State University. When she showed us her app for collecting botanical data in the field, we were eager to have her share her story (below).

The Plant Data Collector app is an app I’ve wanted to create since I was a plant biology graduate student years ago. Like most field biologists, I wrote my data and notes down in a notebook and then deciphered and entered them into a spread sheet at home. At the time, only the Palm Pilot and Visor PDAs were available as note taking and scheduling devices and cell phones were yet to be “smart.” The Visor allowed me to take notes, but was not really that useful as a data collection device.

The online world was only available at home and web sites such as the USDA Plants Database were inaccessible in the field. If I wanted to review a plant in the field, I had to lug around a heavy plant field guide along with the rest of my gear. Needless to say, as soon as I discovered MIT App Inventor the Plant Data Collector app was the first app I wanted to develop.

The current version of the Plant Data Collector app allows users to enter their data, saves the data to a spread sheet in the cloud, and sends plant species search queries to the USDA Plants Database. The app stores the study area name, GPS coordinates, date, site and plot numbers, species name and species cover. Multiple plants can be associated with a single study plot. The data are saved locally to a small data base (TinyDB) on the user’s mobile device and to an online Google Fusion Table.

Now that I’ve created my first app for use in the field, I’ve several more that I’d like to develop that assist biologists in the field and science educators and students in the classroom. With MIT App Inventor I’m free to develop the apps that have been stored in my mind under “wouldn’t it be great if…” or “too bad I don’t have the skills to create…” Thank you MIT App Inventor Team!

Apps and project information are available on my web page and in the gallery.