The Algal Bloom Report Assistant app for the iPhone

(click on the images for a larger view)

ABRA, the Algal Bloom Report Assistant, is available as a free app for the iPhone, or iPod. ABRA works in a way very similar to the Report a Bloom Sighting web form helping you to record sighting data on your mobile device with optional GPS location and an image for later upload to the repository. To take advantage of the iPhone and make the app more educational, we've included ways for you to identify the algae species, either through a question and answer decision tree, by selecting an option from an image spinner, or by type-ahead character matching in the species field itself. Your identification will be checked during validation by our experts, so it does not matter if you are wrong, or even if you omit the species identification altogether. As shown here, the first "Master" page of the app lists all your recorded sightings in date order. The status of each will be one of:

  • pending: An incomplete sighting
  • ready: Validated and ready for upload
  • uploaded: Sent to the server for validation.

Data Entry and Uploading

Clicking on a sighting entry takes you to the data capture page. As well as all the data fields provided by the on-line web form, buttons allow you to take a picture, or select an existing one from the Camera Roll of your iPhone or iPod. Other buttons allow you to select the source for the mandatory location coordinate values. If you have enabled image location in your iPhone Settings, these may be extracted from the photo itself. Alternatively, you can capture the current location, or enter it manually as decimal values for latitude and longitude.

The slider at the bottom of the page enables the Upload button located at the top right of the Toolbar. Pressing Upload performs a validation which will inform you of any missing mandatory values, or bad data formats. If the data are valid, you will be asked for permission to continue with the upload. You might choose to wait until your iPhone is connected to your home WiFi network, rather than taking the cost of the upload via your 3G carrier's network. Successful uploads display the ID of your sighting on the CABER server. Once uploaded, all editing is disabled and the sighting may be deleted using the Edit button located on the Master view.

Assisted Identification of Species

If you are familiar with scientific names, tap in the species field to bring up an iPhone "keyboard". As you type, ABRA will perform a look-ahead match with known algae and cyanobacteria names, allowing you to auto-complete the entry by tapping the popup name.

If you are not familiar with the scientific names, tap the ">" button in the right of the field. This takes you to the decision tree page where you will answer simple questions about the sighting characteristics to progressively refine the candidate list. In many cases, you will end up with a single candidate name. Tap the "+" key on the Toobar to accept the selection.

Alternatively, the Browse by Species button on the bottom Toolbar will bring up a page for those with a bit more knowledge of algae and cyanobacteria types. An iPhone "spinner" allows you to select the broad category and names within the category. Tapping a name brings up an small image of the species and icons which indicate the broad characteristics of the type. Tap the icons if you don't recall what they mean. Tap the image to see a larger picture.

Additional Species Information and App Settings

On the Selection Assistant, or the Browse by species display page, tapping the image will load a larger picture of the species. An Info button on the left of the bottom Toolbar will display text describing the features of the species, its habitat, when it blooms, and any alternate common names for the type. As before, you can tap the Add (+) button to accept the type and be taken back to the main sighting data collection page.

On the Sighting page, you can tap your selected sighting photo to view it full-screen with zoom, pan, and rotate gesture recognition. Currently, any change in image selection you make this way has no effect on the image uploaded. However, to save upload time and server storage, the size of the upload image is reduced from the hi-res iPhone image size to either Small (640x480), Medium (800x600), or Large (1600x1200). You configure the size using the iPhone Settings app. This also lets you configure your name and email address so these fields can be automatically populated with your customized values when you create a new sighting.

About ABRA

The eResearch team at UQ had fun creating this app and we hope you have just as much fun using it, learning more about the different types of algae and cyanobacteria as you do. If you have any feedback on how the app might be improved, or find a bug, please take the time to let us know through the Contact Page.