Mobiles Get the Scoop on Illegal Logging

Discarded mobile phones recognise when chainsaws are being illegally used in rainforests, an unusual surveillance system that was developed by engineer Topher White, founder of the start up Rainforest Connection.

Author Anna Rees, 07.07.15

Discarded mobile phones recognise when chainsaws are being illegally used in rainforests, an unusual surveillance system that was developed by engineer Topher White, founder of the start up Rainforest Connection.

As a tourist, Topher White witnessed illegal logging taking place in the Kalaweit Gibbon Sanctuary in Sumatra. This was the trigger that led him to found Rainforest Connection, which puts mobile technology to work in the field of rainforest conservation. Why mobiles? Because even in the most underdeveloped areas one thing usually exists: a mobile network.

The idea is quite groundbreaking because until now, the best method has been using drones and satellites which sometimes don’t capture all the details. Often, it can take months for illegal logging to be noticed. The “ears” of mobile phones notice this in real time.

Mobiles Quietly Eavesdropping

To ensure a consistent supply of energy to the mobiles phones (which are mounted on the trees are not visible from the ground), White has developed a solar-based technology that works well with very little light. The panels needed for this can be built on site using environmentally-friendly materials.

The highly-sensitive microphones in the phones compare the frequencies of the surrounding soundscape with prerecorded sounds of chainsaws and trucks and transmit them to a cloud-based system for the final analysis. If a positive match is made, the phone sends a message to the local authorities.

This technology is not just beneficial for the forest but also for the people in protected areas. Rainforest Connection works together with the Tembé people in the Amazon, whose livelihoods and environment is under constant threat due to illegal logging and urban development. Mobile phone detectors will be installed in the most-threatened areas of this region.

Interested in supporting the project? Send your old phone to Rainforest Connection and kill two birds with one stone: dispose of your electronic waste properly and help the environment!

This article has been translated from the original by Silvana on our German platform.

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