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
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