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TrackTAP: An iPhone Photo App for the Tree Assistance Program

The USDA Farm Service Agency Tree Assistance Program (TAP) provides financial assistance to replant citrus groves affected by greening disease. Records must be provided to the USDA to show your trees did indeed succumb to this disease before you can get assistance. Several kinds of records are suitable, including surveys by government agencies, aerial photographs showing decline and inspections by third-party experts. Another type of information that can help establish your trees declined due to greening is photographs.

Photographs are not usually included in everyday citrus grove surveys, but the Tree Assistance Program could change that. For example, a series of photos over time can show the onset of symptoms and progress of disease through a grove. Photos can also capture tree removal operations and show preparation activities for new plantings. Taken together with other records, photos can help make a case that plantings are eligible for TAP assistance.

Unless you already use a photo organization app like Adobe® Lightroom®, chances are that your citrus tree photos are scattered throughout one or more folders on different computers. Consider the example that you have photographic evidence of a particular grove’s decline and eventual removal. How difficult would it be for you to find all the photos of this grove on your computer? How much effort would be involved if you had to organize these photos into a report for a government agency? Could you prove your photos were taken in a particular location at a particular time?

TrackTAP is a new mobile app being developed for iPhone and iPad to solve problems in visually documenting tree and grove condition. The app helps organize visual information into useful, easy-to-generate reports. Photographs are it’s forte, but TrackTAP is really a multimedia grove survey and database app capable of collecting and organizing data, videos and dictation. And it can transcribe spoken notes into text using Siri.

Fig. 1. TrackTAP™ user interface main navigation screen that greets the user.

Fig. 1. TrackTAP™ user interface main navigation screen that greets the user.

TrackTAP is easy to use. Start the app by clicking on it’s icon in your home screen. From there, select the option to view (and collect) data (Fig. 1). This takes you to a screen to enter new records, where you select a grove name from a drop down box. Scroll down to see TrackTAP automatically populate the record with information about variety, rootstock, grove owner and more. You also have an option to enter data about weather and tree condition, and to add dictation or descriptive notes about your survey (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. TrackTAP™ user interface showing some  options for collecting grove survey data.

Fig. 2. TrackTAP™ user interface showing some options for collecting grove survey data.

The most important feature in TrackTAP is its ability to capture photographs and related data about tree and grove condition. Additional image data support is provided using an option to grab GPS coordinates and to shoot several photos of trees using iOS’ native camera (Fig. 3). In addition to date, time and camera settings, iOS devices add geocoordinates to image metadata (Fig. 4). Embedding latitude and longitude, along with landmarks in your photos, can help establish the locations where photos were taken. High-resolution images from other cameras can also be added to your grove database by dragging and dropping into the companion desktop application.

Fig. 3. TrackTAP™ user interface showing options for collecting tree geocoordinates and photos.

Fig. 3. TrackTAP™ user interface showing options for collecting tree geocoordinates and photos.

TrackTAP uses a cloud architecture to synchronize data from many users and locations. This means photos and other data are synchronized with a database in a remote location for permanent archiving. One advantage of off-site archiving (along with local backups you should be doing anyway) is that it’s unlikely your data will become lost or corrupt. Cloud architecture also allows live updating of program code, so that changes in the app (user interface, data handling, etc.) can be propagated downstream in real-time to any number of users.

Fig. 4. Adobe Lightroom® screen capture showing image data, time, camera metadata and photo geocoordinates.

Fig. 4. Adobe Lightroom® screen capture showing image data, time, camera metadata and photo geocoordinates.

Data collected with TrackTAP are also secure. The app will use a type of multi-factor authentication to ensure that only authorized users have access to their own information. Additional permissions can be granted to others who need to access, but not add or modify data. Privacy concerns can be addressed using obfuscation, where user-specific information is masked. Depending on how it’s deployed, TrackTAP can host several hundred simultaneous users.

Photographic Adobe® Acrobat® PDF reports can be generated and emailed from within the mobile app immediately after data are collected in the field. This is useful for providing grove owners with real-time visual information on tree condition. More detailed reports can be produced with the desktop app. The TrackTAP database uses a relational structure, so complex reports can be produced using custom queries. These reports can automatically collate and organize photographs and other data into timelines. The desktop app in this way is useful for producing reports provided to authorities. Using dates and spatial coordinates, it’s easy to visually track changes in tree condition over time and space. TrackTAP is the first easy-to-use mobile application in citrus to provide this capability.

TrackTAP’s user interface uses an Apple-inspired design aesthetic. Colors are subdued, buttons are clearly marked, fonts are crisp and clear, and objects are not crowded into the app’s screen. This is important for navigation. In particular, the app’s basic features are designed to be useable without having to refer to a manual. Different language translations can be added in the future.

TrackTAP is not affiliated with the USDA, but it is on a pathway to commercialization. The app is being developed with modest up-front capital, and at this point looks as if it will be made available to growers as a value-added service. The app is currently in closed beta test phase by several organizations in commercial settings.

TrackTAP has other uses, such as in research, new variety trials, follow-up to natural disasters, and any situation where comparative plant appearance and location data are important measurements. Appearance data collected with apps like TrackTAP over many locations help solve the problem of how do you rapidly identify optimum conditions that prevent disease. TrackTAP data can be connected to other applications, such as neural networks, for more detailed analytics and discovery.

TrackTAP is representative of a trend of new interest in farming as a hotbed of technology development. Venture capitalists seem to be more willing to take risks in exploratory ag applications development in return for a big potential upside. Florida citrus in particular needs an industry-recognized, lean technology innovation team that can explore and rapidly develop new mobile apps that exploit big data analytics to improve grove operations. Apps like TrackTAP and others can help analyze massive aggregate data sets to detect trends difficult to detect by other means.

TrackTAP sets a new standard of practices in visual communication for the citrus industry. And the USDA Tree Assistance Program is a good ecosystem for apps that document grove condition. Along with its other uses, TrackTAP when it becomes available can help you make the case that your grove is eligible for reimbursement under this program.

Author disclaimer  The information in this article is provided “as is”. The author and publisher of this article disclaim any loss or liability, either directly or indirectly as a consequence of applying the information presented, or in regard to the use and application of any of this information, in whole or in part, for any purpose whatsoever. No guarantee is given, either expressed or implied, in regard to the merchantability, accuracy, or acceptability of the information. Dr. Steven Rogers is a well-known innovator of digital technologies in citrus. More information about Dr. Rogers is on his website at grovetracks.com.

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