Frequently Asked Questions
The short answer is, "Yes, in many cases, coverage is quite good!"
Today, cellular infrastructure is quite good in Southeast Asia and Africa—even in rural, sparsely populated areas. Based on our experience (and that of our partners), even in areas with no future prospects of electricity or roads, cell-service is often a given.
And that's just today. Rapid further expansion of wireless connectivity is a well-stated mission of not only telecom providers much of the developing world, but of global digital main-stays such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, who currently compete for marketshare of rural populations, and have invested significantly in bringing affordable connectivity to all corners of the world (Google Free Zone, Google Loon, Facebook Zero, Twitter Zero).
That said, it still doesn't exist everywhere at this point, and for our system to operate in real-time, at least a low-level of cell-service is required. Typically, the requirements for RFCx are "less than one-bar", so-to-speak (or, less than is necessary for a phone call). We also have some low-tech methods for extending the expected range of coverage, by placing devices higher in trees, and using inexpensive directional antennas.
It's also worth noting that our system is really designed to address the "90% case". That is to say, we believe that by focusing only on "forested areas that have GSM coverage" we can build a more scalable solution at a small fraction of the cost/risk of a more universal solution. Expensive, high-tech contemporaries to Rainforest Connection abound (satellite-imagery, satellite-uplinked camera traps, etc) but scalability/costs of such systems are prohibitive at a large scale. If Rainforest Connection can build a solution from "trash" (discarded cell phones and solar panel by-products) that works cheaply in a majority of situations, it would be a tremendous victory in global conservation efforts.Last updated:
Yes, we certainly accept donated smartphones, and your contribution would be most appreciated!
NOTE: Please back our campaign too, though—we have plenty of phones, but no funding prior to this campaign. - :-)
Please send donated phones by mail to:
77 Van Ness Ave, Suite 101-1717
San Francisco, CA, 94102, USA
And also, with the phone(s), please be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and mailing address so that we can thank you personally, and keep you up to date on where your phone is being put to work!
At the moment, we only use Android phones inside the RFCx devices. We intend to expand to other types of smartphones once we have the resources to support that development.
In the meantime, non-Android phones (flip-phones, Blackberry, Windows Phone, iPhone, etc) that are received are used to equip rangers on the ground and other local partners that are responsible for responding to alerts and stopping destructive activity.
If you would like to be sure that your old phone will make it into an RFCx device, as of today (June, '14), all models of Android phones capable of running Android version 2.2 ("Froyo") or higher should be immediately usable with our system. This typically includes any phone released in 2010 or later, but feel free to reach out by email (email@example.com) if you have specific questions about your model of phone. You can also just email us photo and we can figure out which phone you have.Last updated:
We want to make the sound data available, including to open source developer communities and Universities that have expressed an interest. Being able to diagnose the health, stress levels and needs of a forest ecosystem based on sound patterns and possible disruptions has been an exciting prospect. It's not something that satellites can do since they monitor visual destruction and largely after the fact. We've been talking to Cornell University. They have a lot of expertise in animal sound signature recognition. We hope to partner.Last updated:
Many times people who are doing logging may be from a local community. If you arrive on the scene while they are logging and let them know what the boundaries of the protected area are - they will stop and go somewhere else. They would rather go somewhere where nobody will show up. This is a first step to protecting an area, create a deterrent. Then that area can be expanded. In the case of giant black market illegal logging (10 trucks at a time) the goal would be to prosecute.Last updated:
By choosing the right partners. In the beginning we will only do pilot programs in areas where there are people who have a committed interest in protecting that area. This is the case in our Indonesia testing area and also in the Africa pilot program we plan to do this year with Zoological Society of London. Later we can expand to more difficult areas. The second thing is, if local parties receive the alert, rangers or law enforcement can receive it at the same time - and this creates a network of transparency and it is possible to measure if people are responding by creating layers of oversight, checks and balances. If the responsible party does not respond - there is a record of that. It becomes know and the other parties that also receive the alerts can show the time that everyone received it and that there is a pattern of not responding - which can be taken to higher authorities. Some of our partners in Brazil want this kind of forensic evidence.Last updated:
This tends to be a complex discussion at the moment, so for sake of simplicity
we think the key metric is the amount of forest protected and our ability to show that.
Some of the data to support it would include: a before/after picture of the activity in terms of before the system and after the system; the number of reported incursions over time, real-time responses and what happened...including legal actions.
Currently we tend to think more in terms of “results” rather than indices or metrics, because our experience is human beings often make the mistake of starting with metrics and measures based on theory. This is especially true for Americans who are working in other cultures, in other countries in partnership with local communities. We don't want to make that mistake.
For instance we might have a lot of devices up, as an obvious metric – but it doesn’t necessarily give us the desired result if people aren’t responding in real time.
So we believe that the partnerships help define the metrics for success in each pilot program in each new place (our partnerships with first responders on the ground) The partners are essential for developing the metrics for success by their standards, rather than our standards. For that reason we are working with Zoological Society of London, ECAM, and Interpol. Building the right partnerships with reliable partners is a big part of future success.
In terms of data, we think the first priority is diagnosing the amount of human activity going on in a specific area. In many cases our partners—or people trying to protect an area— don't know what’s really happening there. They may not know the scope of activity, or the key access points or extraction points. They find out after the fact—sometimes long after the fact. Given that, it’s hard for them to infer a pattern. They don’t have a clear picture of the scale of the problem. They may not have an idea of the rate of incursion or extraction for logging or poaching, except that they see … sometimes.
So, what we are focused on providing for them is a picture of what’s happening in the area, and then using the technology as a deterrent to future incursions. Once people know an area is protected and someone is listening, they often choose to go somewhere else.
Showing the amount of activity at the time a system goes up, then allows local partners to assess the scope of the problem, the amount of resources needed to deal with it – and then measure the impact of the system in terms of deterrent value by giving real time alerts which enables real-time intervention.
Some of our team members have worked with law enforcement and our approach comes from that.Last updated:
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