By Justin Gammill on Jul 16, 2014

Androids Saving the Rainforests

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The fight against poaching and illegal logging has a new weapon in its arsenal: Androids. Yes, highly technically advanced humanoid robots set on the destruction of those who would exploit the world’s most delicate eco-systems. These cold, calculating robots are singularly purposed as the protectors of the rainforests of equatorial Africa. Wait, what’s that? You meant Android smart phones? Oh, I thought you were talking about robots …

RFCx

A California-based technology company is recycling Android smart phones into a tool that will help monitor rainforests in an attempt to stop illegal poaching and logging. Rainforest Connection (RFCx) has teamed up with the Zoological Society of London in a conservation effort that will begin this year in Cameroon. The founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Randy Hayes, says, “This is the most exciting critical new tool I’ve seen that I think can help us get the job done.”

Bring on the Tech

Current methods of monitoring these fragile rain forests are based on often-outdated aerial surveys and satellite images. It’s a very reactionary approach, which is too many times too late in preventing the issue. What RFCx does is completely different. Basically, they take the old Android phone hardware and put it in an enclosure that includes a weatherproof case and specially designed solar power array. They then take these devices, put them in specific locations in an area, and through the existing cellular infrastructure are able to stream the sound in real time to the cloud. The sounds are then analyzed by a software program that is “trained” to hear things like a chainsaw in this case. When it hears a noise that could be a chainsaw, it immediately sends a notification to the authorities in that region, all in real-time. How cool is that? When they did their beta test in Sumatra last year, they were alerted and caught illegal loggers on the second day of testing. Topher White, RFCx’s founder, said, “It’s clear that real-time awareness and intervention is a major missing piece in protecting the world’s last remaining rainforests. By using old smartphones and existing telecommunications infrastructure, we have built a system that we think could scale quickly enough to make a real impact.” He believes that the right tools and timing is key to the solution. I actually had the opportunity to speak with Topher for a while on Skype, and I’m putting my stamp on this guy as “legit.”

Your Impact

One thing that Topher and I talked about was the concept behind what they are doing. You all know me too well to think that I’m here trying to sell anything. Topher has a history in the technology industry and he said, “There are a lot of really smart people out there who work really hard to solve problems that really don’t matter.” In this case, he’s taking a problem that we’ve all heard about and making it a real thing. RFCx has an app where you can literally receive alerts and listen to the chainsaws for yourself. So, the next time you look at that old Android phone sitting in a drawer, just remember that it could be the key to saving animals and habitats on the other side of the world. To get involved or donate a phone, check out their FAQ section of their Kickstarter campaign. We often don’t think about the potential we have, good or bad, on our world around us. Companies like RFCx are quietly doing their part to save the planet in new and innovative ways. I have to say though- the robots would have been an interesting approach too.

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Comments

  1. Tara Minnick LaSalla says

    Taking old tech and using it to fight off the evil doers- brilliant.. So I am curious if this could in some way be used in conservation areas in places like Africa where poachers are going after Rhinos and elephants for their ivory.

    • Justin Gammill says

      Actually, I’m glad you asked. There are currently similar technologies that are designed to detect gun shots, but according to Topher, they deliver a lot of false positives, so they are tweaking them. The ability to detect gunshots is definitely a coming improvement though.

  2. Sally J. Sheldon says

    Love this! <3 Recycling is one of my passions in life, so using materials to stop thieves, and help the environment at the same time, is wonderful news!! Step in the right direction..Kudos :)

    • Justin Gammill says

      Thanks, Sally. It was awesome to actually talk to Topher and get the details about how these devices work, and hearing stories of their field tests and up-coming projects.

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