CEO and Founder of Rainforest Connection, Topher White. Photo: White's Twitter

A California-based NGO is deploying Huawei's cloud AI to monitor rainforests in Latin America

RFCx currently monitors forests in 14 countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize and Suriname

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A California-based NGO called Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is using Huawei‘s cloud AI to protect and monitor forests and their species in Latin America. The initiative is part of Huawei’s TECH4ALL program that develops digital inclusion and aims to accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Through this program, Huawei helps NGOs to conserve natural resources, protect habitat, and monitor endangered species.

RFCx currently monitors forests in 14 countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, and Suriname. Due to illegal logging and poaching, several species are endangered and vulnerable, like the spider monkeys. To protect them, the CEO and Founder of Rainforest Connection, Topher White, developed a solar-powered audio monitoring system called Guardian, which uses recycled Huawei’s phones to “hear” the animals.

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Old Huawei phones can work 24 hours for two years, so White deployed these phones deep in the rainforest and synchronized them to call in the cloud anytime. 

Huawei’s cloud AI monitor rainforests in Latin America. Photo: Huawei/Courtesy

Huawei phones cover more than 2,500 square kilometers of land. These old smartphones are charged by solar panels and placed inside boxes, on trees. The devices capture all the audio from the forest and transmit it to the cloud. These captured sounds are analyzed by artificial intelligence, which is capable of detecting threatening noises alerting local rangers in real-time.

“There’s still no bigger threat than fires in California or Latin America. The technology we built can be used to detect fire but not as comprehensively as satellite imagery. We focus on the sound that it’s there. If you can stream sound out of the forest, you can also stream a lot more because everything else is smaller than the sound,” RFCx’s CEO explained to LABS, during a roundtable promoted by Huawei to present TECH4ALL initiatives to journalists.

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“We have attached a lot of extra sensors,” he said, adding that probably the NGO will start using smoke detection devices too. “The solar panels have the power to pick up the particulars in the air. This is a feature we added.”

According to him, one of the biggest issues that Latin America has to deal with is the difference between what is legal and what is not, when talking about rainforests. “It is about collaboration and people being able to get access to data more quickly. It’s an inclusion issue as well,” he said. 

Old Huawei’s batteries can work 24 hours for two years. Photo: Huawei/Screenshot

Throughout Latin America White and his team have set over around 150 Guardians, but they will be installing another 150 until the end of this year. They are also starting a new project in Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. “The goal is to ramp up more quickly. It’s also true that environmental pressure has increased a great deal, especially in Latin America since the pandemic began. In many cases, the rangers and the fenders on the ground are either under attack or not able to do the patrolling in areas so at least having somebody to monitor (the area) remotely we hope it can be helpful (for them)”, he said. 

CEO and Founder of Rainforest Connection, Topher White. Photo: Screenshot/Huawei

It’s also in Chile that Huawei will implement a new data center (the second of the firm there, after one year) promoting the country as a digital hub in the region. The data center may be operating by the end of 2020. 

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Helping rangers monitoring the forest 

James Hardcastle, director at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List Certification, said at the roundtable that there are a lot of programs in the Amazon region going on now. “We have some of our programs and some of our certified successful nature conservation areas in countries like Peru, for example.” 

One of these programs is the Amarakaeri, an IUCN Green List pioneer, which is an indigenous managed territory in the Amazon. “They are globally recognized for their successful conservation of the territory. It’s a world-class conservation area,” he said, adding that “with the pandemic and the lockdown, they self-isolated as a community, shutting off access and closing the borders of the area. This brought a lot of problems to them but they are resilient people. They were able to tell us and the government about some serious issues that they were facing through digital technology.”

Hardcastle reports that these people have cell phones and that this support is vital for communicating abuses against nature. In their case, the most recent problem was illegal gold mining in the middle of the Amazon. “Even though they closed the borders, the price of gold has skyrocketed throughout the pandemic and people were invading their territory to illegally find gold, bringing risk not only for the environment but bringing the pandemic into their very vulnerable community,” he said. 

Based on information from remote sensing evidence from their communication devices (videos, pictures, etc), they were able to alert authorities and some responses were put in place, said the IUCN director. “This pandemic is creating havoc, really stretching the systems, stretching the results of the defenders and is putting them under a lot of pressure, but one of the solutions to this is digital connectivity in the use of technology to help not only identify problems but have evidence to justify a response and justify the support is needed.”