16 October 2023

Sensors and AI fight deforestation in the Amazon


The University of the Amazon has developed a tool to detect potential threats to the forest in the field. It recognizes noises such as chainsaws and tractors: so it can warn of dangers in real time

by Matteo Cavallito


The fight against deforestation in the Amazon is also being conducted with a small and unsuspected tool: curupiras, boxes designed to “hug” trees and remotely send out any danger signals. This story, that was reported in recent weeks by Agence France Presse, once again expands the growing literature on the use of artificial intelligence in the fight against deforestation.

Named after a creature from Brazilian folklore, the “curupiras” – which are attached to plants with a belt – are equipped with sensors and software programmed to recognize the sounds of all those tools, from chainsaws to tractors, whose use is associated with deforestation. The system identifies the threat and sends a remote communication to authorities called to intervene.

A real-time alert

“We have imagined a virtual system that can make the forest available to everyone. That way, when a threat occurs, anyone who becomes aware of it does so in real time, rather than after the damage has been done,” Professor Raimundo Cláudio Souza Gomes, coordinator of the Laboratório de Sistemas Embarcados at the Universidade do Estado do Amazonas, the academic institution responsible for the project, explained to the A Crítica website.

The new system, in short, has important advantages. Other high-tech solutions, such as satellite analysis for example, can provide very precise information but only after the fact. Wireless sensors, moreover, can transmit data up to a kilometer away. That’s about four times the range of similar instruments tested by other studies, Thiago Almeida, the project manager, told A Crítica.

Tests in the Amazon prove effectiveness of sensors

The device, he pointed out, was successfully tested in a forest located at the side of the BR-174 highway, in the direction of Manaus-Presidente Figueiredo, in northern Amazonia. The tool identified attacks in progress by sending a message to the server.

According to France Press, the project, funded by the Brazilian company Hana Electronics, has just completed its pilot phase. The test involved ten prototypes attached to trees. The authors, the agency continues, now hope to find new funding to add hundreds more sensors, including ones that can detect smoke and heat from fires. Low production costs are also among the advantages: in fact, manufacturing each sensor requires $200 to $300.

Deforestation and the Lula effect

At the turn of the century, the Amazon experienced years of relative calm such that between 2004 and 2012 tree clearance decreased by 84%. The trend was already reversed during Dilma Rousseff’s presidency. But it was with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018 that forest destruction accelerated dramatically. In 2022, in particular, the Brazilian NGO Imazon reported, the Amazon lost 10,573 square kilometers of forest, bringing the four-year total over 35,000.

The re-election of Lula, who has promised to halt deforestation by 2030, has rekindled the hopes of activists and many observers. According to the Brazilian space agency INPE, deforestation declined by 48 percent in the first eight months of the year compared to the same period in 2022. In September, Reuters reported, the decline was 56.8 percent year-on-year.