National Geographic Explorer Topher White has made a name by tackling illegal logging with futuristic tech — a smartphone-driven, renewable-energy-powered microphone network.
White’s nonprofit tech startup, Rainforest Connection, sets up old mobile phones in rainforest canopies to pinpoint the sounds of logging, helping enforcement agencies to take action. The system uses Google AI technology to sort through the various background sounds, detecting the sound of a chainsaw from up to a mile away. It then sends the audio to the cloud, alerting rangers, indigenous people and local actors engaged in protecting the forest to the sounds of forest destruction.
The project, which has installed more than 200 monitoring units since 2016, has expanded to more than a dozen countries on three continents.
This comes at a time when tropical deforestation is releasing more CO2 than the entire European Union combined.
White saw this for himself after visiting a rainforest preserve in Borneo, and was particularly shocked to see someone saw down a tree just a few hundred metres from a ranger station to defend the area. The problem was that the sounds of the forest — squawks and shrills from different animals — had covered up the sounds of logging.
White tells the National Geographic that helping indigenous people to do forest conservation jobs—something they’re normally very active in doing—could be the “cheapest, fastest way to stop [deforestation].”
Rainforest Connection has an annual budget of more than $1m and receives funding from Hitachi, Huawei and Google.Tags: AI, deforestation, Rainforest, South America, USA