Key to creating the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast is a tool called HABscope — a low cost, classroom-grade, portable microscope that has been outfitted with a special adaptor designed by the research team’s engineer and printed on a 3D printer. The adapter is used to mount an Apple iPOD touch to the eyepiece of the microscope. A portable power pack provides the power to light the microscope.
Then, a citizen science volunteer collects a water sample, places it under the microscope and uses the computer to take a video. That’s where deep learning came into play.
GCOOS Research Specialist and Product Developer Robert Currier used open-source machine-learning software (TensorFlow) to build a model that would help the computer automatically identify Karenia brevis cells in the water sample as well as the number of cells present — the concentration of cells. The automated process also reports its findings to researchers making red tide forecast models and can be shared with the public for more accurate reports about whether red tide is on a local beach and whether the concentrations are high enough to warrant a public health concern.
In all, it took some 58,819 images of K. brevis cells to develop the model and “teach” the computer to recognize red tide, Currier said.
“Determining cell concentrations previously required a water sample to be transported to a lab where a trained technician would review a slide to determine whether it contained K. brevis cells and counted each individual cell,” Currier said. "That process took upwards of 15 minutes or longer. Now, we can automate the process with a high-degree of accuracy and have a cell count back instantaneously.”
The tool is also cost-effective. Mobile phone-based microscope systems are available commercially or through custom order but costs range from $1,000 to $3,000. The cost for HABscope? About $400.
HABscope 2.0 is now in the works. The update will replace the iPod Touch with a Raspberry Pi computer
, which will increase its programmability and make it even easier for volunteers to use.