This Engineer Uses Old Mobile Phones to Save Our Forests

He is turning old Android smartphones into forest guards.


Mobile phones are conventionally used for the communication between people. But one engineer, after a hike through the Indonesian rainforest, thought of another purpose for this device.

During that trip, Topher White encountered a man who was cutting down a tree. Not wanting to permit this kind of destructive activity especially when it is illegal, he got the idea of using cell phones as a tool in listening chainsaws, which could report the whereabouts of the loggers to park authorities.

The San Francisco-based engineer discovered this system to be useful after a subsequent trip to Indonesia. He installed cell phones there around a gibbon reserve.

After setting up, it did not take long until White received an email notification from one of the phones, signaling that some loggers are on the move.

Using Old Mobile Phones to Save Our Forests
Using Old Mobile Phones to Save Our Forests

Photos via Rainforest Connection

“In most cases, loggers and other offenders are operating under the assumption that they will not be detected or caught,” said White. “When they are, it greatly reduces the incentive to take the risks.”

The cellphones work through the highly sensitive microphone embedded in them. This feature records the sounds of the rainforest, which is sent to the cloud to be analyzed. But when it hears a chainsaw within the one square mile that it can cover, that is where the trouble for the loggers begin.


GIF by Rainforest Connection

All cell phones are powered by a small solar array so they do not have need to be removed for recharging. They are covered by a plastic case for protection.

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When it comes to the signal, there isn’t much worry as White learned that parts of the rainforest boast remarkable mobile phone service. The forests implanted with the device are considered preserved.

White’s approach to battle loggers is more convenient than the use of drones and satellites because it allows response from the authorities in real time.

Video by Rainforest Connection

Topher White’s TED talk.

So far, White has deployed about 100 listening devices to forests across the world, including in Indonesia, Cameroon, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

The 35-year-old operates under a nonprofit organization called Rainforest Connection, dedicated in turning donated Android smartphones into forest guards. It has sought funds – now at thousands of dollars – from Kickstarter thanks to the boost and support given by aging rock star Neil Young.

As a true defender of nature, White is now also after defending animals by building devices that listen for gunshots and boat engines. He doesn’t want animals, especially the endangered species, to be poached.

Source: Popular Science

Emili Accmah

Speaks Russian, Arabic, French and English. Wannabe engineer at GineersNow TV. Based in sunny Dubai and cold Moscow. Follow me on Linkedin

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This Engineer Uses Old Mobile Phones to Save Our Forests

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