The Challenge

The Beyond the Box Digitization Challenge calls on innovators, makers, scientists, engineers, software developers, robotics designers, artificial intelligence experts, and everyone else with the drive and motivation to develop an innovative method for automating the digitization of insect specimens.

The winning entry will receive up to $1 million for the development of a hardware and software system that automates digitization of pinned insect collections--one of the most challenging biocollections digitization tasks.

Check out the Competition Information sections and the frequently asked questions for further details about the competition.

Submissions will be will be evaluated and scored by a panel of experts. Finalists will be invited to an on-site demonstration where the ultimate winner will be selected.

The competition is a joint project of the U.S. National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

To find potential collaborators and join a broader discussion about digitization of scientific collections, join the Beyond the Bug Box group on LinkedIn.

The Importance of Biological Collections

At least a billion biological specimens are housed in more than 1,000 natural history museums, universities, and botanical gardens in the United States. Insects are the most numerous of these specimens, and are the most biologically diverse groups of animals on the planet. These specimens and their associated data are critical for research, education, and decision-making about the environment, public health, food security, and commerce.

Unfortunately, most collections data is underutilized because only about 10 percent of the data are accessible online. Without easy digital access, biological collections are less available to potential users and are thus underutilized. Digitization of specimens makes images and associated data available online, for use by researchers, teachers, and students around the country and the world.

Why Insects?

Insects are a vital part of Earth's ecosystems. They pollinate plants, which produce fruits and vegetables. Insects are also an important source of food for birds and other animals. Not all insects are beneficial. Some are considered pests that cause harm to crops, spread disease, and damage human-built structures.

There are more than 1.5 million identified species of insects. That is three times the number of all other animals combined. Many scientists think that number represents only a small fraction of the total number of insect species in the world. Digitizing insect collections will help us answer this question.

Insect collections allow researchers to study species without having to travel the world. Collections are a historical record of changes in a species or ecosystem over time. Because collections contain specimens and information about where and when the insect was collected, entomologists--scientists who study insects--are able to conduct research on biological diversity, invasive species, environmental change, disease vectors, and so much more.



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