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The trees are talking

​​​M2M technology is helping stop illegal logging in the Amazon
[Article published in The Review (Feb. 2013)]

According to the famous Zen koan, trees in the forest may or may not make a sound when they fall. In the Brazilian Amazon, however, they have a new and silent way of alerting the authorities to illegal logging: text message.

Covering an area of 1.4 billion acres and home to one in 10 of the world’s species, the Amazon rainforest has lost about a fifth of its total size since 1970. While deforestation hit record lows in 2012, nearly 3,000 square miles were still lost.


About 63% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, and the government has invested heavily in several measures to reduce the number of illegal clearances taking place. Satellite imaging is one of these initiatives: it works well in identifying large areas that have been cleared for illegal harvesting, but the gangs can get around this by clearing multiple smaller sites.

Now, as part of a pilot program, trees in a protected area of the Brazilian Amazon have been fitted with a cellular communications device called Invisible Tracck, which has been developed by leading track-and-trace technology company Cargo Tracck using Gemalto’s Cinterion technology for M2M (machine-to-machine) communications. Invisible Tracck features a BGS2 communications module that sends an alert to the Cargo Tracck operations center with its location whenever it is within 20 miles of a cellular network base station. Cargo Tracck then advises the Brazilian environmental protection agency (IBAMA) officials that one of the fitted trees is on the move.

The first challenge was to design a device that could operate and survive in the vast and hostile environment that is the Amazon: the rainforest gets an average of 7.5 feet – yes, feet – of rainfall a year.

Mission accomplished. Highly robust, the device can operate for over a year without recharging and has been modified with new Radiation Exchange Data (RED) technology, which extends its range in low-signal areas.

Most importantly, the Invisible Tracck device is discreet. At about the size of a deck of cards, it is difficult to detect without examining a tree in minute detail, a fact that its creators hope will discourage loggers from attempting to transport illegally felled wood.

The project was initially conceived by Brazilian TV network Globo to draw attention to the serious problem of illegal harvesting that plagues Brazil. The initial test involved 20 strategically placed devices and resulted in several arrests and the closure of one illegal sawmill. It has demonstrated how M2M technology can be applied in the most creative of ways to address real-world problems efficiently.

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