Your Old Phone Could Help Eavesdrop on Illegal Rainforest Loggers

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How do you catch a logger in the dense, remote rainforest? For a long time, the answer has been satellites, which may sound high-tech, but actually means you're looking at photos of deforested land days after the loggers have made their getaway. A nonprofit called Rainforest Connection wants to turn old smartphones into solar-powered bugs that listen for chainsaws in real time.

The idea is pretty simple. Take an old smartphone, connect it to solar panels for power, and keep the microphone on. Then hide it in the tree canopy of a rainforest. The software on them listens for chainsaws' telltale whirring, and sends an alert using the cellphone network. This real-time monitoring could actually give rangers time to stopper loggers in action.

Rainforest Connection has tested prototypes of its retrofitted phones at Air Tarusan reserve, a sanctuary for gibbons, in Indonesia. According to their video, the system detected loggers on its first day. Now they're looking for help to scale up the system, so it can be deployed more widely across the world.


Lest we forget, the phones in our pockets are powerful little computers—even if they're a couple years old and don't have the latest candy-themed OS. In the future, perhaps, these phones could just as easily listen also track the calls of endangered animals or rumbling of trucks. At the very least, when a tree falls in the forest, a smartphone might be there to listen. [Rainforest Connection via Augmented Ecology]

Watch a timelapse of the device being assembled.

Top image via Rainforest Connection/YouTube