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Machine Vision with a Mission: Saving the Amazon Rainforest

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Unlicensed Logging is an Environmental Hazard

Does your home have wooden floors, doors, or cabinetry? Do you read or write on paper?

Like most people, you probably use wood every day  — from the beams that keep our homes, buildings, and bridges upright to the sheets we use to store and transmit information. But do you know where it comes from?

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, unlicensed logging supplies ~10-30 percent of the global timber trade. [1] Tropical forests are most at risk; experts estimate that around 90 percent of logging in the Amazon and Congo Basin rainforests is unlicensed. [2, 3] Authorities can’t hold unlicensed loggers accountable for replanting, so illegal deforestation threatens the habitat of millions of forest-dwelling species. It also accelerates climate change by diminishing the world’s natural carbon sinks: places that absorb more CO2 than they emit. [4]

Preventing illegal deforestation is a priority for environmental interest groups. But unlicensed loggers operate on unmapped, unpatrolled roads hidden in dense forest. This makes them difficult to track and intercept.

Fortunately, modern technology offers a solution: artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that detect and map unofficial roads using satellite imagery, so that authorities can efficiently combat illegal deforestation.

Keeping an Artificial “Eye” on the Amazon Rainforest

In 2022, the nonprofit Imazon published its efforts “to automate the detection of the unofficial roads [..] using artificial intelligence.” [5] Imazon researchers trained an AI algorithm to map roads using satellite imagery, achieving ~90 percent accuracy with automated post-processing.  [6] To date, the algorithm has mapped 3.46 million kilometers of road in the Amazon Rainforest — much of which was previously undocumented.

Imazon isn’t alone in its efforts. Other organizations are using AI to identify illegal deforestation hotspots, predict where unlicensed loggers will strike next, and reduce wood waste in a variety of industries. [7, 8, 9] Ultimately, AI demonstrates great potential for combating unlicensed logging. It can help “clean up” the timber industry, allowing consumers to enjoy wood products without contributing to illegal deforestation and its consequences.

Want to know more about sustainable technology? Read our blog on AI for wildlife conservation.


About Synaptiq

Synaptiq is an Oregon-based artificial intelligence and data science consulting firm. We engage our clients in a collaborative approach to developing human-centered products and custom solutions while maintaining a strong commitment to ethics and innovation. 

Contact us if you have a problem to solve, a process to refine, or a question to ask. You can learn more about our story through our past projects, blog, or podcast

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