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Mobile phones to stop illegal logging

Chainsaw noises can be detected and then pinpointed (© Scott Davis Images/Rainforest Connection)
Chainsaw noises can be detected and then pinpointed
© Scott Davis Images/Rainforest Connection

A pilot project to detect and prevent illegal logging in the Indonesian rainforest using recycled mobile phones has just been completed in western Sumatra by San Francisco-based startup, Rainforest Connection. Four devices, adapted to detect the noise of chainsaws at distances of up to 1 km, were distributed throughout a 100 hectare protected reserve near Padang, managed by the Kalaweit environmental organisation. Each device continuously monitors audible frequencies and uploads the data every five minutes to 'the cloud'. The devices are able to detect abnormal frequencies (chainsaw noises), and then pinpoint the location based on how loud the sound is. Each event will also be picked up by at least two devices, which allows a central, cloud-based database to calculate the location of the chainsaw noise. The aim is that these alerts will be sent (in real-time) to responsible agents in the forest to follow-up.

"Quite a few problems can be solved by this real-time element," explains Topher White, founder of Rainforest Connection. "In rainforests it has never previously been feasible, or affordable, to monitor large areas of forest in such a preventative manner. With this new system we can now actually intervene in logging and poaching events before the damage has been done. Streaming the data in real-time also reduces the chances of censorship." White hopes that people from all over the world will take part in the project by following the real-time alerts through mobile apps - enabling a new generation to become enthused about saving the rainforest.

"The first pilot worked quite well," White reveals. "We learned a great deal about the manner in which chainsaw noises travel through the forest and the system successfully detected logging. This was a technological victory for us." Data from the pilot project is currently being used to improve the system, which will officially be launched in August, at which point, crowd-sourced funding will be sought to fund the expansion of the project. Steps are already in motion to test the system in larger reserves in Indonesian Borneo in the coming months.

Date published: July 2013


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