The LuontoPortti (NatureGate) web service provides a unique way to chart and find out about naturally occurring species using a globally-patented method. The site has been visited by people from nearly 200 countries and there have been more than 15 million downloads.
Product development for the service and photography of the different species featured there has taken a good 20 years. The first part was launched to a large audience in the summer of 2008, but the service is continually undergoing rapid development. At present you can use the service to identify plants, trees, shrubs, birds, fish and butterflies as well as to explore different landscapes.
― We are currently working on mammals, grasses, sedges, rocks, minerals, fungi, bumblebees and moths. Our goal is to keep extending the service into new areas and new species, explains CEO Eija Lehmuskallio.
From idea to implementation
The idea behind LuontoPortti (NatureGate) came about when Lehmuskallio with some colleagues was making a TV series that required plant recognition and an understanding of various natural habitats. All the available text books were used as reference works.
― The idea of creating an electronic tool for recognition came about as we wrestled with the jungle of words in the plant guides. We sketched out on paper a schematic to help with identification and showed it to some naturalists. We were convinced of the functionality of the method and we also managed to convince a few students in the field to work with us.
Today the research method has international patent protection and the picture archives comprise more than 500,000 images. A user interface compatible with all possible terminal devices makes identification fun and easy. It comes in eight different language versions.
New species and areas
According to research carried out by the National Board of Patents and Registration of Finland and the University of Helsinki, the service is globally unique. According to Lehmuskallio, it has been well received both in Finland and abroad and there have been visitors to the site from 192 countries.
― We have networked with different universities and this has helped raise awareness of the service around the world. As well as the general public, users include, for example, schools, picture agencies, nature and garden publications as well as researchers.
The service will be extended to include not just new species but also to cover larger geographical areas.
― Just recently we have signed an agreement with the Arctic Universities. The tools we have developed will be used to identify and chart species in the arctic region and to monitor climate change.
In conjunction with the service, web-based educational material has been developed which will soon be available. In the near future a mobile version of the service is also planned. The process of internationalization is also continuing in collaboration with Finpro, for example, to several other countries.