With nearly 400,000 species of plants on the planet, it’s hard to feel confident learning to identify plants. Even if you can learn to identify the wildflowers in your area, there are garden flowers and invasive plants to worry about. It’s all really overwhelming. It can feel kind of like listening to the radio, hearing one of the 97 million songs out there, and not knowing which one you love.
Don’t worry. There’s an app for both of these problems.
One is the popular music-identifying app Shazam, which listens to songs and then identifies them (usually within seconds). The much-newer plant identification app is known as PlantSnap, and it’s commonly lauded as “Shazam for plants.”
What Makes PlantSnap “Shazam for Plants?”
Ok, we get it: saying that an app is “like Uber, but for X” or “like AirBnb, but for Y” is a bit old. But there are a lot of things that make PlantSnap the Shazam for plants. Thanks to some very in-depth analysis of how Shazam works, we can see the similarities between Shazam and PlantSnap.
1. Both PlantSnap and Shazam use “Fingerprints” for Identification.
In order for an algorithm to identify something, it needs to have a “fingerprint” of sorts. In the case of Shazam, the app developers pre-loaded digital summary of the song. Without getting technical, the fingerprint of a song is made up using the frequencies from a song. Similarly, PlantSnap uses specific characteristics of plants, like leaf shape or vein patterns, to identify the plants.
2.Both Apps Work Quickly.
Who wants to wait hours to identify a song at a bar or a plant along their hike? No one! One of the amazing things about both PlantSnap and Shazam is that they work very quickly. The algorithms are able to quickly compare the photo or sound recording back to the pre-logged fingerprints to give you and ID in just seconds.
3.PlantSnap and Shazam Don’t Need You to do Much
Who wants to spend time flicking through photos of leaf patterns or listening to snippets of songs to identify them? Not the users of these apps. Both Shazam and Plantsnap work really hard to keep your end of the deal as easy as possible. Most of the time, it’s as easy as just pointing your phone in the right direction and waiting a few seconds.
4. Artificial Intelligence Drives Both PlantSnap and Shazam
It seems like just about everything relies on AI these days, and Shazam for plants (and the original Shazam) are no exception. Without artificial intelligence, these apps would become incredibly cumbersome. It would be nearly impossible for PlantSnap or Shazam to work without artificial intelligence.
There are several big reasons to call PlantSnap “Shazam for plants.” However, it’s not a perfect comparison. There are some key ways that PlantSnap isn’t exactly Shazam for plants.
How Shazam and PlantSnap Differ
There are obviously some differences between Shazam and PlantSnap. For one, Shazam is made to be able to identify songs with poor sound quality or at any point in the song. PlantSnap needs to have well-framed and well-lit photos of specific plant parts.
This is largely because the world’s understanding of plant identification isn’t as clear-cut as song identification. Many plants in the tropics are still totally unknown to science and don’t even have names. Some plants look incredibly similar (often because of mimicry). Selective breeding of garden plants gives some plants extra-extreme shapes or colors. Interbreeding between different plant species muddies the water further. It’s not uncommon for plants to confuse botanists! But don’t worry – PlantSnap is constantly improving.
Also, PlantSnap’s algorithm is constantly learning thanks to its artificial intelligence base. Shazam, as far as we could find, does not seem to automatically update and learn. This might be because there are over 2,500 new songs released per day. There are nowhere nearly that many new plant species discovered in the same amount of time! In some ways, this makes updating databases on plants easier than updating song databases.
This means that PlantSnap’s algorithm can teach itself using the already-known plants. Shazam requires that someone with the rights to the song submits it, whereas any PlantSnap user can submit a plant for further inspection.
Shazam uses a tiered system to speed up identification. The app automatically checks the most popular songs first, then slowly expands its search. This keeps the app running quickly since at times 1 in 20 Shazam queries are the same popular song! PlantSnap does not use the same sort of tiered system — though it’s a possibility in the future.
Whereas there are a limited number of remixes of any given song, and limited similarities thanks to copyright laws, the plants of the world often differ dramatically within a species and simultaneously mimic each other. It all gets pretty messy, and it’s amazing how well both apps work.