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  • Annika Santhanam

Technology to the Rescue: Saving Rainforests with Cell Phones!

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The world is suffering from a big problem.

The Amazon rainforest, the biggest rainforest in the world which houses 25% of the world’s biodiversity and a multitude of oxygen-providing trees, is being destroyed by illegal logging and deforestation. Since 1970, 20% of the rainforest has been destroyed. According to Google, “The indigenous Tembe people live on 2,800 km of rainforest in northern Brazil. Over 30% of their territory has been deforested by cattle ranching, fires, and illegal logging.” The Tembe do have rangers, but it’s hard to hear sounds like logger trucks and chainsaws over the noisy atmosphere of the Amazon. They needed a powerful solution that would help them stop the illegal logging. The answer came in the most unexpected form: old Android cell phones.

Chief Naldo of the Tembe tribe contacted Topher White, founder of environmental nonprofit Rainforest Connection, in 2014, and together, they started creating a system with old Android phones to help the Tembe rangers track down loggers in the night and prevent illegal destruction of trees.

How It Works

An old, recycled Android phone is connected to a solar power adapter and external microphone. The device is hidden high up in the trees to have better access to sunlight for charging and cell service. It listens to the sounds of the rainforest 24/7 while the external microphone records these sounds. Topher and the Tembe tribe are able to analyze the sounds recorded using TensorFlow and identify specific sounds. TensorFlow is a program that analyzes the soundwaves of recorded sound and can be used to assign certain sounds a label, such as ‘chainsaw’ or ‘logger truck’, so the program knows what it’s hearing. Topher and the Tembe tribe used TensorFlow to do just that so the device they built can identify logger trucks and chainsaws out of the many other sounds of the rainforest.

The End Result

The device, once it picks up and recognizes the sounds of a chainsaw or logger truck from a specific area, is able to send an alert to the Tembe rangers who go out to that location to stop the logging or report the logging to the authorities.

What’s Next?

Rainforest Connection is introducing these systems to five different countries, including Peru, Ecuador, and Romania. As for the Tembe, their canvassing their entire forest, determined to safeguard both their land and their way of life.


Imagine how many other ways this technology can be used to improve our world!


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