Mushroom app appeals to those in the dark

Photo: Martina Schneibergová

Just like every summer, Czechs are setting off to forests all around the country armed with baskets and knives in their annual hunt for mushrooms, one of the most popular national pastimes. This season, recognition of the various fungi species may be easier than ever, thanks to a new mobile app which has recently been launched by a team of Czech developers.

‘Aplikace na houby’,  photo: Google Play
Although the summer has not provided ideal conditions for mushrooms, the picking season has already begun, especially in the mountain regions of the Czech Republic. For those who are not that confident in recognizing which species of mushrooms are safe to eat, there is now a new mobile application available, providing something like a digital guide to local fungi.

The ‘Application for Mushrooms’ or ‘Aplikace na houby’ was developed by a small Czech studio Vocom and offers a selection of 210 major species of mushrooms, including detailed descriptions and quality photographs. Vojtěch Kučera of Vocom says he got the idea to create the application when he himself was hunting for mushrooms. It took about nine months from the initial idea to the first version of the project:

“Our intention was to build a well-integrated and complex application for mushroom foragers. The purpose was to provide a field guide and identification key, which enables users to sort mushroom according to their characteristics. But there is also a third experimental function, and I would like to stress the word experimental, to recognize mushrooms with the help of a video.”

Vojtech Kučera adds that the experimental, recognition function is definitely not to be wholly relied upon. So how exactly does it work?

“You switch on the camera on your phone and point at the mushrooms from different angles, also using a zoom. It takes from one to five seconds for one guess, depending on how powerful your phone is. So basically there is an algorithm, which is guessing in real time what is currently visible. At the moment, the accuracy is around 60 percent.”

Photo: Martina Schneibergová
The immense success of the Application for Mushrooms has taken its developers by surprise. Ten days after its launch, it has already been downloaded 30,000 times and became the second most popular add on Czech Google Play.

The application currently works only on Android phones, but in the future, an iOS version should also be available. Kučera and his colleagues would also like to enable the users to upload pictures of their own, in order to improve its recognition function.

The ‘Application for Mushrooms’ is available both in English and Czech and can be downloaded for free. The good news is that if you find yourself in a forest with no network coverage, it can still be used in an offline mode.