Artificial Intelligence to detect illegal deforestation. Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is a non-profit organization that recycles old cell phones to help protect the rainforest from illegal logging. How does it do it? Through Artificial Intelligence aimed at detecting sounds that may be dangerous to the environment in protected forest areas in rainforests. This illegal logging is contributing to illegal deforestation and an increase in carbon emissions.
Illegal deforestation is a gateway activity to the clearing of tropical forests, a major cause of climate change. According to the UN, up to 90% of logging in tropical rainforests is illegal.
One of the most interesting points of the artificial intelligence used by this NGO lies in the automation and, of course, the socio-economic impact it will have, especially considering the wider ramifications of climate change and the long-term consequences of not stopping this illegal deforestation that continues to endanger the fragile balance of a planet that keeps asking for help. And the immensity that makes the Amazon rainforest so diverse and fertile also makes it extremely difficult to protect.
If you protect the trees, you protect everything else.
Rainforest Connection, which was born in 2014, started around that time by employing second-hand solar-powered phones as listening stations that could alert authorities to the sounds of illegal logging. Now, the application of machine learning has boosted the network’s capabilities. Today’s phones are smarter, more modern, and represent a powerful and versatile tool to be used as a wireless sound detector.
Originally, cell phones only listened for certain sounds that indicated, for example, the presence of a chainsaw, but introducing the variable of a constantly learning artificial intelligence has meant that they can get much more out of the audio stream.
They can now detect gunshots, voices, species… much more subtle details than a loud chainsaw. And the good thing is that the AI gets better as the months go by.
The RFCx monitoring system offers the opportunity to protect key areas of the rainforest and respond to alerts in real-time while sharing large amounts of ecosystem data that help negotiate greater protections in these areas. In some cases, protecting the perimeter of a rainforest can actually mean protecting everything behind it.
What are the organization’s current programs?
The NGO is currently engaged in the Tembé Indigenous Reserve project in Brazil, working with the indigenous Tembé people to protect their rainforests from illegal logging, illegal settlements, and incursions, with the goal of defending a key area of land that the Tembé have successfully reclaimed from destructive illegal settlers. Rainforest Connection has also installed stations in Cameroon and Sumatra, and more are on the way.
Want to get involved?
Listen to the rainforest in real-time thanks to the Rainforest Connection app. With the free RFCx app, you can live-stream the sounds of rainforests around the world in near real-time and from anywhere, anytime, transforming our cell phones into guardians protecting forests and wildlife from poaching and illegal logging.
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