By Joe Bonadio

A San Francisco nonprofit called Rainforest Connection has devised an ingenious way to convert used cell phones to solar-powered listening devices, and is now employing them to monitor old-growth rainforests for the sounds of illegal loggers. The devices can zero in on the distinct sound of a chainsaw from nearly a mile away, and transmit the information to a cloud API which sends an alarm to authorities on the ground instantly. This allows conservationists to intervene and stop illegal loggers in the act – literally within minutes.

After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign around their idea in the Summer of 2014, the company raised a cool $167,299. Encouraged by their initial success in the wild of Western Sumatra, they’ve moved to expand their operation. They now plan to place their next generation of devices into three other old-growth reserves in Indonesia, Africa and the Amazon.

As founder Topher White explains, its just a matter of tapping the unused potential of all that hardware: “Every year 150 million cell phones are discarded in the United States alone. And yet, these are really fantastic little computers.” He calculates that each repurposed device can protect 300 hectares of rainforest, and prevent the release of 15,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. With these three new projects, White hopes to prove the system can work anywhere on the globe.

Destruction of the rainforest is a leading contributor to climate change, and is caused mostly by illegal activity. Illegal logging alone is responsible for approximately 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

For more info about Rainforest Connection, take a look at the Motherboard article here and Topher White’s TED talk here. Meanwhile, we’ve posted Rainforest Connection’s informative video below.

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