Business & Technology

Solar-powered smartphones against illegal deforestation in Romania

A tragic environmental crisis is unfolding in Romania, with illegal deforestation reaching the 20-million-cubic-meter threshold. The legally allowed logging is 18 million cubic meters, but the reality is that 38 million cubic meters of trees get cut commercially, according to Gabriel Păun. As the president of non-governmental organization Agent Green, Păun has taken action to protect the forest using the latest advancements in technology through the Screaming Trees project.

“We are in the unfortunate situation that forests need protection because of illegal logging. And we aren’t saying anything new. The novelty is that we are trying to find technologically accessible and innovative solutions to protect them,” Păun said in an interview on Radio Romania Cultural.

Screaming Trees terminal
The solar panel powering the Screaming Trees terminal. Photo by Agent Green

The technology Agent Green has tapped into was developed by a California-based startup, the Rainforest Connection. The firm created a smart monitoring system, RFCx, which was tested in rain forest areas such as Congo and India. Romania is the first temperate-zone country where the RFCx monitoring system has been tested, which is important from the system’s perspective because of the cold winter period.

The technology powering the Screaming Trees project looks simple at first glance, but it isn’t. “We assemble smartphones on the top of the trees where they get sunlight so they get charged during the whole year through the solar panels,” Păun said. To do that, the team needs special climbing gear which they import from Denmark and Germany. They have the verbal blessing of the Attorney General that they won’t be accused of spying, he told me in an email.

Screaming Trees terminal
A man assembling the Screaming Trees terminal. Photo by Agent Green

The package also includes signal boosters and antennas to enhance the cellphones’ capabilities to capture signals. The smartphones run a mobile app that uses the device’s microphone to capture audio signals within a one-square-kilometer range.

By measuring volume, motor rotations (bpm) and sound durations, the device detects chainsaws, gun shots, cars and then sends a notification to the person responsible for that area. The person then checks the zone signaled by the terminal.

Climbing on tree
A man climbing a tree to assemble a terminal. Photo by Agent Green

The first trial was conducted in a forest in Kovászna/Covasna County in 2017, where the results were very positive, encouraging the initiators to expand the mesh of terminals to other forests. Currently, the network of Screaming Trees terminals are live in two forests in Kovászna/Covasna County, but the organization is looking to expand the monitoring system into additional forests.

Local ranger
The local ranger guarding the Kovászna/Covasna area. Photo by Agent Green

“We got requests from various areas such as Buceci, Leaota, Királykő/Piatra Craiului,” Păun wrote. “The next step would be a contract with the Romanian Ministry of the Environment, the forest guardians, and the National Environmental Guard, because we would like to assemble this monitoring system to all sites listed in the national catalog of virgin forests, the Unesco World Heritage, and every protected forest and national park, chainsaws have no place on these sites,” he added.

Ascultă de acasă pădurea și protejeaz-o from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Author: István Fekete