About this project
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What is Rainforest Connection?
Rainforest Connection transforms recycled smartphones into autonomous, solar-powered listening devices that can pinpoint signs of destructive activity at great distance.
It's the world's first scalable, real-time logging detection system, pinpointing deforestation activity as it occurs.
Taking it one step further:
Rainforest Connection Mobile App
With the Rainforest Connection mobile app, any interested person from around the world can listen-in on the rainforest anytime, from anywhere.
In late 2014, we will release web & mobile apps to let our backers stream the LIVE sounds of the rainforest in Africa and the Amazon. Just click Play above to hear the sounds of the rainforest as captured by the RFCx system in Sumatra.
Rainforest Connection in the news...
Why do we need Rainforest Connection?
Current detection systems rely on satellites which show rainforest destruction days or weeks too late. Our system provides the world's first real-time logging detection system. We can pinpoint deforestation activity the moment it begins, while simultaneously streaming the data openly and immediately to anyone.
Why should you support this Kickstarter campaign?
Each RFCx device can protect an area of forest so large that it is home to over 1000 different species of plants and animals. We also focus on creating partnerships that empower indigenous populations working to protect their homelands from encroachment, logging and poaching.
Each RFCx device protects enough trees from logging to prevent 15 000 metric-tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to taking 3 000 cars off the road.
What will we do with the Kickstarter money?
Near-Term: Your donation will allow us to purchase the hardware and complete up to two separate pilot programs.
One of our 2014 deployments will be in Equatorial Africa - to protect illegal logging and poaching in partnership with Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
“We think this could be a critical new tool for protecting large areas of rainforest." - Chris Ransom, Zoological Society of London
Long-Term: If we exceed our goals, we can do much more. We can begin to cover large areas in Latin America and Asia, upgrade the software analytics, and create real-time data flows that allow open source developers to take the app to the next level.
Hear the sounds on our mobile app: If we exceed our Kickstarter goal, we can also deploy the mobile consumer application for everyone to listen in on the sounds of the rainforest and illegal logging.
Listen here to the real sounds captured by an RFCx device in the field (Location: Western Sumatra, Indonesia):
How does Rainforest Connection work?
We install RFCx devices high in the tree canopy where they are hidden. Each device continuously captures all ambient sound, and can detect the sounds of destructive activities—such as logging/chainsaws—up to 1 kilometer in the distance. Upon picking up the sound of a chainsaw the device transmits an alert to our cloud server which in turn sends an SMS message to first responders.
This is what the sound signatures of chainsaws look like when analyzed by our system.
The devices have been stress tested and built to last indefinitely, using a patent-pending solar-panel configuration that powers the devices—even under the tree canopy.
Topher White: Physicist, software engineer, founder and inventor of RFCx. Topher has been building systems large and small for startups as well as international science projects—most recently four years working on nuclear fusion at ITER, in France.
Dave Grenell: 10 years of environmental policy working to create national models. Dave also negotiated one of the first placements of a gunshot detection system in California, an idea that uses similar principles to Rainforest Connection.
Nishant Bagadia: 10 years of building high-impact start-ups that align business models with impactful product/service solutions. Nishant's experience as an ex-Deloitte Consultant helps him focus on taking RFCx to scale.
Teddy Ryerson: a former senior executive at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Teddy is an environmental lawyer and public policy expert with national leadership experience. She has co-authored ground-breaking environmental legislation and prosecuted major violations of environmental laws. Most recently, she served nearly five years as the senior policy advisor to the EPA chief executive in the Pacific Southwest for four states, the Pacific Islands and 148 Tribal Nations. Teddy became an environmental lawyer in part due to her studies of massive global extinctions while she was a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley.
Neil Calder: a lifelong master of science and innovation communication, Neil is current Vice President for Communication & Public Relations for OIST, in Japan. He has previously served as Director of Communications for several of the world's largest international science laboratories, including CERN (France/Switzerland), SLAC (California) and ITER (France).
Nick Ellis: Founder of Job Rooster, a mobile app for job search that has been used by millions of Americans. Nick is an expert in mobile technology applications. He concentrated in technology and design interaction at Stanford and London School of Economics, with a focus on developing nations.
Henry Oh: Henry has extensive experience with open source development and technology. He studied the interplay between technological evolution and social change at UCLA, the London School of Economics and Stanford Law School. A serial social entrepreneur, Henry is passionate about using technology to promote social good. He has volunteered to localize Creative Commons licenses in non-US jurisdictions.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe: Legal Services. Big thanks for the amazing pro bono work from Heather Stewart, Eliza Golden, Rene Kathawala, Sophie Yu, Michelle Jarell, Johanna Jacob and Ben Tabler.
Zoological Society of London: Chris Ransom and Lauren Redmore
Equipe de Conservação da Amazônia (ECAM): Vasco M. van Roosmalen
Earth Train: Nathan Gray, Colin Wiel & Steve Wiel (Mamoni Preserve)
Fluid PR: Matt McAllister, a full-service communications firm specializing in startups and technology clients
Rylander Design: Michael Rylander
Gravity Tank: Innovation design specialists, David O'Donnell
Risks and challenges
Can illegal loggers find the devices in the trees?
When installed in the field, the devices are well camouflaged and nearly invisible in the tree canopy. The photos of the device that are shown on this Kickstarter page (low-mounted on trees) are solely for display purposes, because you can't show a "hidden device." If a device is properly placed high in the canopy, it’s nearly impossible to see—made even more undetectable by the 2-3 square kilometer range (many many thousands of trees) which are covered by a single device. Different rainforests have different attributes, but in Indonesia we could barely find the devices after we put them up ourselves. Beyond that, the devices do have a theft-detection routine. In any instance where a device is moved (after being installed), local authorities receive an alert. We therefore believe that the favorable circumstances (well-hidden, and large range) combined with our proactive design efforts (anti-theft routine) will continue to prevent anyone from tampering with the devices.
Do rainforests have cellular GSM coverage?
Perhaps surprisingly, our experience so far has shown that many of them do, particularly in many areas that are most threatened by human populations and logging. Growing global GSM coverage is outpacing most people's expectations. Our devices are programmed to work on very minimal GSM coverage, below the amount that a person needs to make a fully functional cell phone call. If GSM coverage is light or intermittent, our devices store data and then transfer data as soon as any connection is detected. In addition, many of the rainforest areas, where loggers would enter through access roads, have greater coverage for RFCx to post devices around the perimeter. In the future, we are exploring partnerships with remote controlled devices that can transmit GSM signals in areas with poor connection. The good news is that our existing near term pilots in Indonesia, Africa, Brazil and Central America all have enough coverage to allow functional monitoring.
We already know where the illegal logging takes place, so why waste time trying to survey these areas?
That's good news. In such a case, devices installed in that area would still be able to let you know in real-time when it's taking place. The sensors allow real-time intervention and response, by alerting the authorities. They also create a forensic record of evidence of extraction and the patterns of illegal activity which can be used in many ways, including in a court of law, should the authorities never respond. Knowing where destruction is happening is an asset - knowing where AND when is far better. It empowers people to call first responders (rangers/police) in the same way we might call 911. If the first responders don't respond, it allows us to show a record of their failure to respond by showing that they were alerted to illegal logging but did not show up or did not stop it.
Do existing technologies work better than RFCx?
Existing rainforest protection tools predominantly rely on aerial surveys or satellite surveillance, and aren’t fully getting the job done, as these tools usually detect logging days or even weeks after the illegal deforestation has occurred. This often results in a reactive, versus a proactive, encounter.
Is RFCx expensive?
We believe the RFCx approach is likely to offer a pathway to the least expensive way to protect large areas of rainforest, when taken to scale. Currently, we make the devices by hand and this is time consuming. When we have larger orders for installation of devices, when we can do production runs at lower costs.
In comparison, the costs for camera traps and satellite detection are baked into much larger programs. These costs are high but difficult to extrapolate. A good camera trap might run $500-$800, but it only covers a line-of-sight area of up to a few hundred square feet. One RFCx device can cover about 3 square kilometers (1 square mile) for the same price or less.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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