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Saving Brazil’s Amazon: These tree-hugging AI boxes can detect ‘when destruction starts’

''Curupira''developed by a team of researchers from the State University of Amazonas (UEA) with the aim of helping combat forest deforestation.
''Curupira''developed by a team of researchers from the State University of Amazonas (UEA) with the aim of helping combat forest deforestation. Copyright MICHAEL DANTAS/AFP or licensors
Copyright MICHAEL DANTAS/AFP or licensors
By Euronews Green with AFP
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AI boxes tied to trees are battling destructive jungle invaders in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

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Small, artificially intelligent (AI) boxes tied to tree trunks in the Brazilian Amazon are the latest weapon against deforestation.

The boxes, named 'curupiras' after a folkloric forest creature who preys on hunters and poachers, sport sensors and software trained "to recognise the sounds of chainsaws and tractors, or anything that could cause deforestation," says project manager Thiago Almeida.

They are being used by scientists and environmentalists to battle destructive jungle invaders.

How has AI been trained to prevent illegal deforestation?

"We recorded the sound of chainsaws and tractors in the forest," explains Thiago. "Then, all the collected sounds were passed on to the AI team to train [the program] so that... it would only recognise these sounds and not the characteristic sounds of the forest, such as animals, vegetation and rain."

Once identified, details of the threat can then be relayed to a central point and agents deployed to deal with it.

"The advantage of this system is that it can detect an attack... or a threat in real time," says researcher Raimundo Claudio Gomes of the Amazonas State University behind the project.

Unlike satellite data, which reveal deforestation only after the fact, the curupiras can detect "when the destruction starts", he adds.

The sensors look like small internet modems but are in fact wireless and can relay data up to one kilometre via satellite to others in a network.

The project has just completed its pilot phase with 10 prototype boxes fixed to trees in a densely forested area near Manaus, the capital city of Brazil's northern Amazonas state.

The boxes were named after Curupira, a creature in some Indigenous folklore that has feet turned backwards to confuse the hunters it pursues.

How effective are the AI boxes at detecting criminal activity?

Early results from the project, financed by Brazilian company Hana Electronics, have been "very promising," says Gomes.

The team is now looking for more funding to add hundreds more sensors to the system, including ones that will be able to detect smoke and heat from forest fires.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised to end illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.

His far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro had presided over an increase of more than 75 per cent in average annual Amazon deforestation compared to the previous decade.

Gomes said that unlike audio sensor-based systems already used in other countries, the Manaus project is comparatively inexpensive as it does not require large antennas for data transmission.

Each sensor costs about €200-€300 to manufacture.

Video editor • Joanna Adhem

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