New AI solution aims to prevent deforestation

Hitachi Vantara and Rainforest Connection have announced a solution using cloud-based AI software to predict illegal logging and prevent deforestation.

Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White with guardian device on forest treetop

Non-profit organisation Rainforest Connection aims to make a difference in the fight against climate change using its ‘guardian’ devices – small, android-run devices placed in the rainforest treetops – to pick up sounds and stream them to the cloud. 

“Protecting forests is critical to climate change,” explained Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White. “Of all the carbon emissions every year, at least 17 per cent come from deforestation, more than all transport combined. Illegal logging makes up to 90 per cent of all logging, taking place in the tropics across the world.”

The main challenge in using the guardians is that detection of chainsaw activity can take up to 14 days to reach rangers, who review the information and arrange to go on site. By this time, trees can already be lost.

Hitachi Vantara, the digital infrastructure and solutions subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd, has partnered with the organisation to develop a solution using its Lumada data analytics technology. 

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Through building algorithms that create a ‘baseline’ of rainforest sounds, their system allows for earlier detection of anomalies in the rainforest’s ‘bio-acoustic signature’ – such as a logger scouting the location before chainsaws start.

Josh Siegel, leader of Visual Co-Creation Services at Hitachi Vantara, said they were able to improve response times for the rangers by up to 35 per cent, with potential to avoid around 20 tonnes of Co2 emission with every guardian monitoring a 3km square space – equivalent to taking more than 3,000 cars off the road. 

“We now have up to five days, sometimes more, of a very accurate prediction – a high likelihood that illegal logging will be taking place,” Siegel added. “In our minds it is moving from detection to prediction.”

Topher White demonstrates the technology to locals

Announced in 2019, the partnership has now seen the successful implementation of the solution in the Sumatran rainforest, Indonesia. Next year, the technology is scheduled to be rolled out to the entire network of Rainforest Connection guardians.

Beyond deforestation, Hitachi Ventara believe the AI solution could be extended to a variety of industrial settings including factories and power plants. Wider applications for the technology could include predicting wildfires, power outages and industrial accidents; assisting with search and rescue to locate lost tourists; locating ships and submarines, and enhancing weather forecasts.

“This could be one of the fastest, cheapest ways to fight climate change,” said White. “This is about building a nervous system for the planet, this idea of sensation, sensing the world, perceiving what’s there through machine learning and AI. We have the partnerships on the ground to be able to stop these issues, and we have the technology to do it.”