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FathomVerse video game expands ocean exploration

FathomVerse game players contribute to science by identifying underwater images.
FathomVerse game players contribute to science by identifying underwater images.

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) just launched a video game that encourages ocean enthusiasts to contribute to the field of underwater exploration.

FathomVerse is a video game that takes players into the depths of the ocean to help scientists identify underwater creatures.

Kakani Katija is the principal engineer. She received a National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator grant for the project.

“Game players are looking at real data that’s collected by researchers all over the world and sometimes are the first people to look at images that have been collected by these researchers,” Katija said.

People who play the game are helping researchers to review an overwhelming quantity of visual data that is collected by robotic vehicles that roam the ocean floor. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will eventually make this easier, but first, Katija said humans must sort through the images to build AI programs. And that’s where community scientists can help.

She said the more creatures identified through the game, the better the data will be. And it’s fun, too.

“You, as a player, are floating around on ocean currents and by tapping the screen, you send a pulse that reveals different animal images in your dive. You can open up that image and take a look at it, and then decide if this is something you want to collect,” she said.

The game invites anyone with a smartphone or tablet to join the world of underwater exploration and help scientists learn more about our changing ocean. Katija said the data will be used for biodiversity surveys and climate-related decisions going forward.

“As a game player you will be able to contribute to helping us make the appropriate and sustainable solution,” she said.   

FathomVerse is free to download from the App store and Google Play.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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