Launching Zooniverse site - 2 Days to go!

The Plastic Tide are excited about our launch on Wednesday 26th April.  Take part in a world first, the first time anyone has used crowdscience to train a machine learning algorithm to detect, measure and monitor marine litter and plastics!

Here is a quick break-break down of the what, why, how and who.

What is a 'Zooniverse' website?

Zooniverse is a website that allows you to tag marine litter and plastics in images, storing the tagging data for our computer program to learn from.  All the beaches from Phase I and II will be online and the Phase III and IV beaches will be made live for tagging as we go!  

When we launch on Wednesday, all you need to do is login and start tagging!  

Why is it important?

As we outline in The Problem section, marine plastics and plastics is a growing challenge to almost every aspect of our lives from our dinner plates to our wallets.

However, despite this growing problem, we understand very little about what actually happens to the plastics after it enters our oceans.  For example, when a bottle falls in the Thames in London, does it end up on a beach in Norfolk or Norway? We simply don't know. 

This presents a huge problem for scientists, as it is a major missing piece of understanding telling us how plastic impacts both the oceans and our lives.  So far we can only say with certainty where 1% ends up - on the ocean surface.  The remaining 99% is unaccounted for - we are unsure how much ends up on our sea floor, in the water column, in sea creatures or on our beaches.

How does it work?

The process starts with a drone and beach cleaning kit on a windswept beach somewhere in the UK; 

  1. The Plastic Tide team surveys one of 30 beaches with our drone,
  2. The images taken are then uploaded to soon to be launched - The Plastic Tide Zooniverse project 
  3. YOU tag any litter and plastic items you see.
  4. These tagged items feed into our computer program or Machine Learning Algorithm
  5. Eventually, the computer program will then be able to automatically detect, measure and monitor marine litter and plastics on beaches.
  6. The Plastic Tide will then make the computer program and data free online
  7. Maps of the hotspots and patterns of marine litter and plastics can then be made of the data collected.

What is the Computer Program?

A standard computer program has no way of distinguishing a piece of plastic from a pebble or a plane or to learn the difference. As such most computer programs are not much different from a calculator at a basic level; they rely on pre-defined inputs to perform a programmed task for a set of desired outputs.  In other words you input '1 + 1' into your calculator, it then follows its programming, adding the two numbers together to give you '2' as the output.

The Plastic Tide uses a new type of computer program called a 'Machine Learning Algorithm'. These revolutionary types of algorithm are used in detect pedestrians in driver-less cars or identifying human emotions from pictures of people's faces. Machine Learning Algorithms differ from standard computer programs in that it mimics the way the brain works to learn to tell the difference between a piece of plastic or a pebble, more importantly, it can figure out a method of how to do this on its own. This means that the machine learning algorithm can go detecting marine litter and plastics without the help of humans!

However, to start with, it needs to be shown as many examples of what it is looking for as possible. This is exactly what YOU are doing each time you tag (or don't tag) a plastics or litter item when our Zooniverse project is live.  Eventually, the program will learn to identify by itself what is and not a plastic or litter item.  

Benjamin Hahn's, our Engineer, will be publishing tonight on Machine Learning - Add us on social media to keep an eye-out!

Follow/Like us below to stay turned for more news on the launch coming up - and Ben's blog!