A surveillance system made from repurposed cellphones is helping deter illegal logging in the Amazon. From 2001 to 2018, Brazil lost more than 100 million acres of tree cover. Instead of relying on park rangers to wander the forest and pick out sounds of logging among the natural clamor, the nonprofit Rainforest Connection is using old cellphones to build audio recorders that look like mechanical flowers, which are hoisted into trees. The devices send 24/7 recordings to the cloud, where AI software hunts for telltale logging sounds, such as trucks, chainsaws, human voices, or gunshots. There are currently more than 150 active devices in five countries around the world, including Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, and they can each capture sounds up to a mile away.
When the software detects a suspicious noise, it alerts local rangers, who can investigate the situation. Aerial surveys and satellite imaging can take weeks to reach rangers. Rainforest Connection, which collaborates with other nonprofits, community groups, and tribes to install the technology, says the phones are more efficient than traditional monitoring strategies. Project founder Topher White said that “sound is the most exciting piece of data available to us that’s not been fully realized for protecting the planet.” (CNN, Amazon Conservation)
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