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Prototyping our Low-Cost, Songbird Identifier

Hey, Zach here with another songbird identifier update! Since the last post, I have been busy testing the prototype device by taking bird recordings in various locations. After this week I will be taking a short break before resuming work on the project with the rest of the songbird team in the coming semester. Right now we are primarily planning for the next steps in the development processes that we will begin in September.

Laser cut songbirds are much easier to catch…

Our first goal is to add mobile internet access to the device so bird recordings can be automatically uploaded to our database as they are recorded. The ultimate goal is to design the device that is easy to set up and deploy, at which point it will automatically begin recording and sending data to our website and database where the recordings, geographical location, and classification data can be easily viewed by anyone. We’re looking for a wireless chip currently. These are pretty cool, if you’re unfamiliar, you can connect DIY devices to the internet via a cellular provider. You just need to buy a data plan and set up a SIM card, then your device can connect to a 4G network and send data wirelessly!

The second goal is to make the device autonomous enough that it can run this way for at least a week at a time without intervention. In order to do this, we must create some sort of weather proof housing for the device so the device can be placed anywhere.We also need to have a power source that can allow the device to run for at least a week continuously while keeping the cost of the entire system fairly cheap. This may involve a rechargeable battery pack and/or some sort of solar charger.

Two of our current prototypes.

Now that we’re beginning to actually build our prototypes, it is helpful to begin looking at other, commercial varieties…

The “Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter” is commercial wildlife audio recorder. Running around $1000, without software, it is a prohibitively expensive option for schools, students, or any sort of mass deployment.

The guy she says not to worry about…


The weatherproof housing on the commercial device is nice, and it features weatherproof microphones, which don’t need to be an expensive feature. Additionally, this device runs for up to 400 hours continuously (using 4 D-Cell batteries) and features a “sleep mode,” so it only records when it hears noise, and a recording scheduler, so that you can control what time during the day it takes recordings.

Looking at expensive options like this is encouraging, in a way. So far we have a prototype device which achieves almost the exact same results, just in a less durable package. When we’ve got the whole team back working on this project this upcoming semester, I think we can finalize a low-cost, web-connected, enclosed prototype which will be ready for long term testing and deployment.

Then we can focus on the exciting work, the signal classification and database so we can identify what songbirds the device is hearing and where in the country they are!

We’ll keep you updated over the coming months, for now, it’s time to enjoy my few weeks of summer before I’m back to school and we start back up with this project.  

Tim Marzullo Talks Human-Human-Interface, BYB History on “Neural Implants” Podcast

Recently, our very own Tim Marzullo spoke with the Ladan Jiracek, host and creator of the “Neural Implant Podcast.” This podcast describes its purpose as “bringing together the field of neuroprosthetics, brain-machine interfaces, and brain implants through an understandable conversation on the current topics and breakthroughs in the fields.”

The Podcast runs just under an hour, with Tim covering a great range of subject matter. Beginning with the viral sensation that was (and still is…) our “Human-Human-Interface” TED talk, Tim discusses the genesis of that project and then of the company itself.

Tim then goes on to discuss the role he sees Backyard Brains playing in education as we address the lack of accessible neuroscience tools and education, before discussing his perspective on the future of the field and his hopes for Backyard Brains’ future.

The podcast covers all this and more, but we’ll leave you to listen to it yourself! Check it out at Neural Implant , then consider checking out some of the other podcasts on the site! Many of the scientists interviewed are friends of BYB and are up to fascinating work. Hope you enjoy!


The 2017 Summer Fellowship Concludes

Over 11 sunny Ann Arbor weeks, our research fellows worked hard to answer their research questions. They developed novel methodologies, programmed complex computer vision and data processing systems, and compiled their experimental data for poster, and perhaps even journal, publication. But, alas and alack… all good things must come to an end. Fortunately, in research, the end of one project is often the beginning of the next!

Some of the fellows intend to continue working with on the research they began here while they’re away and many of these projects will be continued next summer! Definitely expect to hear updates from Nathan’s EEG Visual Decoding project and Joud’s Sleep Memory project. Additionally, two of the projects will continue throughout the next few months: Zach’s Songbird Identification and Shreya’s Electric Fish Detector projects will continue through to December!

Meet the Fellows, See the Projects

The fellows are off to a great start! Check out their blog posts introducing their projects:


 The team has been working hard to bring their projects to life. Check out these blog posts on their rig construction and data collection efforts!


Our fellows experience the peaks and valleys of research this summer, but they all came out on top! Check out their final posts for their results, posters, and other details!


A few of our fellows are staying on throughout this next semester for longer term development projects! Zach is going to be back to working with his team on the Songbird Identification Device project, and Shreya will be working through to December on the Electric Fish Detector project. Expect updates on their progress from them soon!