Recycled Mobile Phones Help Save Indonesian Rainforest

Tropher White, founder of the San Francisco based Rainforest Foundation NGO, is launching a pilot programme this week. He hopes it’ll help protect the Indonesian rainforest from damage by illegal loggers. And if he and his team are right, all it’ll take is a network of recycled mobile phones.

A network of cheap, recycled phones

The project uses old Android mobiles to record and identify the unique sound of chainsaws, alerting rangers who can then stop the loggers in their tracks. The first batch of phones are new but if the trial pans out as expected, White hopes to create a huge network of recycled phones donated by supporters as they upgrade.

Special software identifies the sound of chainsaws

The mobiles are fitted with solar panels designed specially to harness the limited light falling on the forest floor. The microphones are set to ‘on’ permanently and special software triggers an alert whenever it ‘hears’ a chainsaw in the vicinity.

At first, rangers will have exclusive access. But in future the plan is to release a free app so anyone can get real-time alerts including the audio itself and the signal’s exact location. As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of value in this level of interaction, making people feel they’re playing a real part in the front line of conservation by helping prevent rainforest deforestation.

Turning conservation around

Catching loggers red handed is hit and miss at the moment. While conservationists can currently use satellite imagery to see where deforestation has taken place, it’s too late by then – the damage has already been done. Arial surveys are also useful but again, they only spot problems when it’s too late. And they’re expensive. The project hopes to turn the situation around, making significant improvements in stopping illegal logging.

Testing, testing…

The local conservation group Kalaweit will initially place and test 15 phone rigs over an area of 25,000 hectares in the Air Tarusan reserve in Western Sumatra. Indonesia loses around a million hectares of rainforest every year. If this simple and cheap technology performs as expected, locals will be able to put a phone in a box, nail it to a tree and track loggers instantly. And the steady destruction of the rainforest by illegal loggers will be slowed. A brilliant idea.

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