Scientists are using old smartphones and data analytics to stop deforestation in the Amazon

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Scientists are using recycled smartphones to stop illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest.
Image: Rainforest Connection

Deforestation and illegal logging are a serious problem for places like the Amazon rainforest. These practices not only destroy crucial parts of the environment but also disrupt the habitats of countless animals. Many organizations have strategies in place to try and stop deforestation, but the problem is a difficult one to control.

About five years ago, researchers decided to use old smartphones to build acoustic monitoring systems in the treetops. That technology has since helped rangers curb illegal deforestation and catch those responsible in the act.

Now, a new breakthrough in technology and a partnership with Hitachi Vantara is helping Rainforest Connection, the organization behind the acoustic monitors, stop illegal logging before it even begins, Digital Trends reports.

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Listening to the Source

When chain saws turn on, they create massive acoustic abnormalities that can be detected by relatively simple sensors. However, that often means that rangers can’t get to the logging site until well after those responsible have started cutting down trees. By the time they arrive, much of the damage is done.

The new tech is able to detect logging activity before it begins by picking up minute anomalies. Rainforest Connection notes, “Before starting a chain saw, loggers will scout appropriate locations, causing a change in species’ acoustic signatures and signals, a disruption to the environment.”

Scientists listen for these disruptions with devices called “Guardians” that are placed in the treetops near areas of known illegal logging activities. The devices are constructed with parts from donated smartphones and are given a solar array to keep them powered. When the Guardians detect the sound of a chainsaw or logging truck, they automatically send a signal to nearby rangers.

The Guardians recently got a boost thanks to data analytics tech from Hitachi Vantara. The platform allows rangers to become more attuned to the forest and pick up abnormalities before trees start to fall.

Rainforest Connection says, “Hitachi Vantara’s solution detects these advance warnings and alerts rangers in real time. Rangers using this technology get up to five hours lead time to arrive on site. This head start gives rangers valuable time to preposition themselves and prevent even more deforestation than they can today.”

Already At-Work

So far, Rainforest Connection has been able to deploy the advanced Guardians to parts of the rainforest in Sumatra. In the coming days, the tech will expand into more than 11 countries. The organization plans to integrate Hitachi’s data analytics platform into all of its Guardians.

Topher White, Rainforest Connection’s CEO, said in a press release, “The projects with Hitachi Vantara are game-changing… We’ll be able to scale up our operations and provide rangers with greater certainty around when logging events are likely to happen.”

Meanwhile, Gajen Kandiah, Hitachi’s CEO, says that the project will “make a meaningful difference in the fight against climate change.”

It will be interesting to see how effective the tech is once it is deployed on a wide scale. Thanks to smart solutions like this one, we are one step closer to protecting the world’s irreplaceable natural resources.

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