If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
Sure does, and a company by the name of Rainforest Connection hopes one of its cell phones will be around to hear it.
The San Francisco nonprofit plans to install used Android smartphones in rainforests to help curtail illegal logging.
Here's how: Ambient sounds in the rainforest will be continuously recorded and screened using the phones' microphones and onboard software. Any noises that match the sound-signature of a chainsaw will trigger an alert, providing rangers with information to intervene and stop the deforestation, according to Rainforest Connection's website.
"We can find out how much forest has been cut using satellite images, but we find out after, so we cannot trace when it happens," Dwiati Novita Rini, a rainforest rehabilitation worker in Sumatra, said to New Scientist, explaining the phones' potential to enable real-time action.
Alerts can be sent using cell networks that already exist wherever the devices are installed. In the Indonesian jungle, for instance, home of a small batch of phones the company is installing this month, unlimited cell phone data can be had for just $2.89 per month. (According to a 2012 BBC report, even the furthest reaches of the Amazon now boast cell service.)
The phones are powered using solar energy and -- eventually -- will be simple enough for locals to install them on trees themselves. Fifteen devices are currently being deployed in western Sumatra's Air Tarusan reserve in a limited beta test.
Each phone covers a circular area of about a third of a square mile, meaning 15 phones are insufficient for all of Air Tarusan's 96 square miles of old-growth forest, but it's a start.
In an email to The Huffington Post, Topher White, the founder of Rainforest Connection, explained that, though the project is in a trial phase, "from a technical standpoint it is very well advanced." White added that all software and hardware, excluding the phone's internal components, are open-source.
Assuming the trial goes as planned, Rainforest Connection hopes to collect and recycle used smartphones for deployment throughout Indonesia and South America. In the meantime, there's only one question for illegal loggers in western Sumatra: Can you hear us now?
This article has been updated to include comments from Rainforest Connection's founder, Topher White.