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ECS students win international award

Published: 2 October 2013

A pair of ECS students have won an international award for their research developing a smartphone app to search for a rare insect in the New Forest, UK.

Davide Zilli and Oliver Parson received the award for Outstanding Student Paper in the Artificial Intelligence and Computational Sustainability special track at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence.

The award was in recognition of their work developing the app that is helping to rediscover the rare New Forest cicada (Cicadetta montana) – the only cicada native to the UK.

The app turns mobile phones into portable cicada detectors that scour the area in search of the elusive creature. If a potential cicada song is detected the app prompts the user to upload the recording so that it can be analysed in more detail.

Davide, a PhD student in the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation who is about to start an internship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “We are honoured to have received this award. It highlights our potential to develop principled artificial intelligence technology and apply it to real-world problems.

“Coming from the world’s top artificial intelligence conference, it is great recognition for the research we have put into this project. Working in computation sustainability is great because it allows us to apply our work to the natural environment around us.”

As well as the award the pair have also been invited to publish their paper in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research.

Oliver, a PhD student in the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Group who is about to start an EPSRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, added: “We launched the app earlier this year and have had about 1,500 downloads and more than 5,000 reports. Unfortunately no cicadas were detected in the New Forest but we hope next year will provide an even better opportunity to search.”

Sightings of the endangered cicada in the New Forest date back to 1812 but it hasn’t been spotted or heard from for more than two decades. Each year from May to July it sings with a very characteristic high-pitch song that is at the limit of human hearing and is particularly difficult for most adults to hear.

The team has recently demonstrated the app at the British Science Festival, in Newcastle, and the BBC Summer of Wildlife event, at Sutton Park, Birmingham.

To find out more about the cicada project and app visit

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