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Google and the NGO Rainforest Connection have partnered together in hopes to monitor the rain forest with machine learning and old phones

In 2014, Chief Naldo, from the Tembé indigenous tribe, in Central Amazon, invited Topher White and his organization Rainforest Connection to help him fight illegal deforestation that has been going on for 80 years on the region. Together, they used disposed cell phones, refurbished them and created a system that sends alert signals through the phones installed on the top of tree to detect logging in real time.

According to White, the numbers show that destruction of forests accounts for nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions every year. And in the tropical rainforest deforestation accelerated on the heels of rampant logging—up to 90% of which is done illegally and under the radar.

In Google Brazil’s blog, Topher explains: ” We’ve hidden modified smartphones powered with solar panels—called “Guardian” devices—in trees in threatened areas, and continuously monitor the sounds of the forest, sending all audio up to our cloud-based servers over the standard, local cell-­phone network. Once the audio is in the cloud, we use TensorFlow, Google’s machine learning framework, to analyze all the auditory data in real-time and listen for chainsaws, logging trucks and other sounds of illegal activity that can help us pinpoint problems in the forest. Audio pours in constantly from every phone, 24 hours a day, every day, and the stakes of missed detections are high”.

TensorFlow is an open-source software library developed by researches and engineers working on the Google Brain Team. The research aimed at machine learning tests, but the system is general enough to be applicable in a wide variety of other domains as well.

According to Topher, TensorFlow’s analytical ability is essential for the project success. “The versatility of the machine learning framework empowers us to use a wide range of AI techniques with Deep Learning on one unified platform. This allows us to tweak our audio inputs and improve detection quality. Without the help of machine learning, this process is impossible”, he wrote.

In LA, the NGO Rainforest Connection is launching the “Planet Guardians” program with hundreds of students from Los Angeles STEM science programs. These students will speak with the local Tembé Tribe through Google Hangouts — Google’s platform that includes messaging, video chat or call — and build their own Guardian devices to be sent to the Amazon. We expect that the “Guardian” devices will protect nearly 400,000 km² through the year 2020.

Content published in March 26, 2018

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