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Rainforest protection efforts given boost by this ingenious tech

Five years ago, a team of specialists came up with the brilliant idea of using discarded handsets to build acoustic monitoring systems able to detect illegal deforestation and logging, which is said to account for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Since then, Rainforest Connection has been refining its technology to enable local rangers to respond more quickly to the banned activities, giving them a better chance of catching those responsible and limiting the damage.

This week, the team announced a big technological leap thanks to a new partnership with Hitachi Vantara — the Japanese tech company’s digital infrastructure and solutions unit — that could mean rangers are in place at a selected logging site before the perpetrators show up.

Currently, Rainforest Connection uses donated mobile phones as devices for detecting illegal forest activities. After fitting them with a solar panel array and acoustic technology, it places these so-called “Guardians” at the tops of trees in areas known to be at risk of illegal deforestation and logging. The Guardians then listen out for approaching trucks and chain saws firing up, at which point the device automatically sends a signal to those in charge of protecting the forest. But the process of reviewing and verifying the data (as well as getting to the site) can take days, by which time a lot of the damage has already been done.

Thanks to Hitachi Vantara, Rainforest Connection has been able to give its Guardians a significant boost, with Hitachi’s specially designed data analytics platform capable of detecting acoustic anomalies in the forest before a chain saw is even switched on.

“Before starting a chain saw, loggers will scout appropriate locations, causing a change in species’ acoustic signatures and signals, a disruption to the environment,” Rainforest Connection explains. “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.”

Hitachi’s custom-built algorithms create a baseline of rainforest sounds, called a “bioacoustic signature,” capable of identifying unusual activity in the forest.

Rainforest Connection has already deployed the technology in Sumatra, and is planning to add it to all of its Guardians, located in more than 11 countries, during 2021.

Rainforest connection Guardian device
Rainforest Connection’s Guardian device. Rainforest Connection

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

Gajen Kandiah, CEO of Hitachi Vantara, said it was gratifying that its work with Rainforest Connection “will have a major positive impact on global warming and the health of rainforests around the world.”

Rainforest destruction is causing the extinction of hundreds of animal and plant species every year, contributing to droughts, and threatening indigenous reserves across multiple continents, according to Rainforest Connection, With 90% of deforestation attributed to illegal logging, the ongoing efforts to protect the rainforests — and the health of our planet — are more important than ever.

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