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Noxious weeds can be identified and reported via the King County Connect app. (King County Images)

King County residents concerned about noxious weeds have a new gardening tool to turn to when it comes to eliminating invasive species — a mobile app that makes it easier to identify and report the precise location of such plants.

With technical assistance from Microsoft and Slalom Consulting, the new app called King County Connect eliminates a complicated reporting process in which the public was previously required to take a photo of a suspected noxious weed, match it through their own image search, submit a report on the King County website and estimate the location of where the photo was taken.

The free app streamlines the process by allowing residents to take a photo in the app, which will automatically geolocate the weed. The plant can then be matched to the county’s list of noxious plants and a report can be submitted directly from a mobile device, either anonymously or with user contact information.

Users can search a library of known noxious weeds, including photos, descriptions, impacts, and procedures to remove the weed. The County has a staff member from its noxious weed program available to answer questions, who can be reached through the app. Additionally, users can register for status updates in the app if they would like to be informed of the County’s actions to identify as well as status of removal.

Members of Slalom’s hackathon team, along with King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, left, King County CIO Tanya Hannah, fourth from left, and CTO Aaron Barak, fifth from left. (Photo courtesy of King County)

The project arose from an idea a King County team brought to a hackathon sponsored by Microsoft in partnership with Slalom.

“The case for using technology to report noxious weeds was so compelling that the three partners were committed to bringing the app to life,” Gretchen Peri, Slalom’s practice area director, public sector, told GeekWire. “The first step was to build the Azure environment for the King County Connect portal, where the noxious weed reporting capability would eventually live.”

Eight team members from Slalom and King County designed the user experience for the app. Peri said all three partners played a vital role building the reporting functionality and the library of noxious weeds maintained by the County. The entire process took several months and more than 15 people were involved.

Plans for future versions of the app will use artificial intelligence to automatically identify the weeds. Additional languages will also be incorporated.

The goal is to stop invasive plants from causing damage to the local environment. According to the County, noxious weeds injure humans and pets, degrade hiking trails and waterways, and devastate agriculture. If the top 23 invasive species were not managed for a single year, damages to Washington state’s environment could reach $1.3 billion dollars, the County said.

Examples of such weeds include:

  • Poison-hemlock
  • Garlic mustard
  • Spotted knapweed
  • Giant hogweed
  • Tansy ragwort
  • Bohemian knotweed

King County Executive Dow Constantine, along with representatives from Microsoft and Slalom, will be at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Wash., on Tuesday to demonstrate the app for media.

“King County has the strongest commitment to environmental stewardship in the country,” Constantine said in a news release tied to the event. “We are also the proud home of world-leading tech companies. We have combined those two strengths to design an easy-to-use app that will help our specially trained experts eradicate invasive plants that are harmful to people, wildlife, and habitat.”

Learn more about the County’s Noxious Weeds Program here.

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