Audio data is being used for the good of the environment through the repurposing of 10-year old Huawei smartphones by an environmental conservation start-up Rainforest Connection.
The non-profit organisation founded in 2014, is helping to protect the rainforests of the world by listening out for nefarious activity and reporting any to local forest rangers, through its network of forest guardians. The star-shaped devices comprise early generation smartphones in protective boxes, surrounded by solar panels.
The devices are then placed high up in the canopy of the rainforest. When the audio sensors detect the sound of chainsaws, the information is streamed up to the cloud and an alert is sent to people on the ground to intervene and stop the illegal loggers.
“One of these guardians can cover three square kilometres and can hear a chainsaw pretty far away,” said White.
When the device was first tested in Indonesia the forest protectors were alerted to the presence of illegal loggers the second day after installation.
This simple, scalable solution caught the attention of people protecting rainforests in Africa and South America which also have good connectivity in their forests, and RFCx is in operation in 10 forests around the world. Huawei also heard about RFCx and is now working with the start-up to convert a huge number of used Huawei mobile phones into solar-powered forest guardians. Many of these phones are the first generation of smartphones that were initially released in 2009 or 2010.
White said that Huawei has helped to eliminate false positives. “We don’t want to be sending false alerts. Over the years we’ve been doing this, we met Huawei they said they can help us to improve and be more effective to build a better and more effective model. If it is more effective and we can hear a much more distant chainsaw, it can help us improve our model and improve the detection,” he added.
Closer analysis of the audio has allowed RFCx to detect anomalous animal behaviour which in one instance indicated that there had been an earthquake in the forest.
In the midst of greater awareness about climate change, this invention is important due to the massive impact deforestation has on CO2 emissions.
According to White, deforestation accounts for approximately 1/5 of the current emissions. and up to 90% of the logging in the rainforest is illegal. “If there are people on the ground to stop it, and if we can build technology to can help them stop logging, we can take a huge chunk out of this 20%,” he said.
Topher White was speaking at Huawei Connect in Shanghai, China.