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Tomnod helping scour the seas for MH370

Friday 21 Mar 2014 5:28 p.m.

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As experts from 26 countries search for a needle in a haystack, 3 million ordinary folk around the world have their backs, helping scour the seas from their armchairs 

Aucklander Aaron Morrell is among the web sleuths using a site called Tomnod to comb 26,000km of satellite imagery in the hunt for flight MH370. 

"That's the power of the internet I guess," says Mr Morrell. "Thousands of people can help out just by sitting at their desk." 

He believes that people are drawn to the thrill of the hunt, flicking through image after image, thinking that they might find it. 

The technology turns average Joes into virtual pilots. 

Former search and rescue pilot Vaughn Davis knows how tough the hunt is. 

"It lets anyone be a virtual pair of eyeballs up in that satellite, which I think is absolutely fantastic." 

He thinks people power can help. Now a social media evangelist, he's excited by this combination of computer and human intelligence. 

Tomnod uses satellite photos captured by US company Digital Globe, which provided the images of possible wreckage off the coast of Australia.

It works by giving the user a small patch to search and if you see anything that looks like debris or an oil slick, you tag it. If enough people mark the same spot, experts take a closer look

Mr Davis says that the difficulty of this is connecting the results of this to a search strategy. 

"They have enough info as is," says Mr Davis. "How much attention do they pay to this and to every other theory? That's the challenge." 

And there's no shortage of theories. A Taiwanese student has supposedly found the plane in a jungle. 

Even Tomnod's experts who analysed the most tagged image concluded that it looks much more like a boat. 

But this technology has been used effectively, and is helping map the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the Christchurch quake. 

It can also help rule out swathes of ocean. 

After 13 days with no answers, many say the more eyes, the merrier. 

Campbell Live

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