Rainforest Connection (RFCx) transforms recycled cell-phones into autonomous, solar-powered listening devices that can monitor and pinpoint chainsaw activity at great distance.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
Sure does, and a company by the name of Rainforest Connection hopes one of its cell phones will be around to hear it.
The San Francisco nonprofit plans to install used Android smartphones in rainforests to help curtail illegal logging.
Topher White, founder of Rainforest Connection, became passionate about stopping illegal deforestation when he stumbled upon it. White's goal for the project is to provide the necessary tools to the people already actively working toward rainforest preservation. Indigenous tribes living in the rainforests are a vital part of the effort, White said.
Current anti-deforestation efforts are aided mainly by satellites, which do not provide live updates. This means responders are often too late to stop environmental crimes before they happen. But Rainforest Connection's device can detect exact locations and times, instantly providing information on which areas of the forest are in danger.
"We can find out how much forest has been cut using satellite images, but we find out after, so we cannot trace when it happens," Dwiati Novita Rini, a rainforest rehabilitation worker in Sumatra, said to New Scientist, explaining the phones' potential to enable real-time action.
Alerts can be sent using cell networks that already exist wherever the devices are installed. In the Indonesian jungle, for instance, home of a small batch of phones the company is installing this month, unlimited cell phone data can be had for just $2.89 per month. (According to a 2012 BBC report, even the furthest reaches of the Amazon now boast cell service.)
The phones are powered using solar energy and -- eventually -- will be simple enough for locals to install them on trees themselves. Fifteen devices are currently being deployed in western Sumatra's Air Tarusan reserve in a limited beta test.
Each phone covers a circular area of about a third of a square mile, meaning 15 phones are insufficient for all of Air Tarusan's 96 square miles of old-growth forest, but it's a start.
In an email to The Huffington Post, Topher White, the founder of Rainforest Connection, explained that, though the project is in a trial phase, "from a technical standpoint it is very well advanced." White added that all software and hardware, excluding the phone's internal components, are open-source.
“We have tested the technology, and it works”, states Topher White in the presentation video of Rainforest Connection. In order to test this idea on the field, they took it to Indonesia, in the Kalaweit Gibbon Sanctuary, in one of the most endangered rainforests, constantly threaten by illegal logging. Within one day they were able to detect for the first time the sound of the chainsaws of illegal loggers. “We were able to respond immediately and arrived to the scene within minutes, effectively interrupting the loggers in the act” Topher explains.