Researchers participate with the UPC in the XPRIZE Rainforest competition to preserve the biodiversity of rainforests

Rainforest. Archive image.
Rainforest. Archive image.
UPF researchers participate with the UPC in the XPRIZE Rainforest competition to preserve the biodiversity of rainforests UPF researchers participate with the UPC in the XPRIZE Rainforest competition to preserve the biodiversity of rainforests A team of researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC), with the collaboration of Tomàs Marquès-Bonet, ICREA researcher at the IBE (CSIC-UPF), has developed a revolutionary technology to preserve the biodiversity of rainforests that has been a finalist in the XPRIZE Rainforest. The international award, endowed with ten million dollars, will transform the way we understand the complexity of rainforests. The final phase will take place in July 2024.

The team of scientists Providence+ , led by the Laboratory of Bioacoustics Applications (LAB) at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC), has become a finalist in the XPRIZE Rainforest and is the only Spanish representation in this international competition, in which six teams from different countries will compete in the final. The finalists, announced during the 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology in Kigali, Rwanda, have one year to improve their solutions before the final phase, which will take place in July 2024.

"Competing in the XPrize Rainforest finals represents a once in a life time opportunity and an enormous responsibility." says professor Michel André, coordinator of Providence+ and director of the Laboratory of Bioacoustics Applications (LAB). "Because humankind’s future depends on a healthy planet, we must provide it with the best technology to serve biodiversity. After 20 years developing technological solutions that address wildlife conservation issues, our team is prepared to take up the challenge", he concludes.

Providence+ presented DROP (Deep-Rainforest Operational Platform) , a low-cost scalable drone-delivered autonomous multi-sensor solution equipped with AI technologies to automatically monitor biodiversity in real-time, prepared to be deployed in fleet to increase spatial and temporal habitat coverage.

The developed technology allows the collection of bioacoustics data and environmental DNA samples. This makes it possible to track hundreds of animal and plant species in real-time and assess biodiversity.

"New technologies, such as the use of drones, artificial intelligence or environmental DNA sequencing, must be key to help study and restore ecosystems and their biodiversity. Only highly interdisciplinary groups like these are prepared to be able to face these challenges," points out Tomàs Marquès-Bonet, ICREA researcher at the IBE.

The sustainable use of this new technology, integrated into a responsible bioeconomy, will enhance research and preserve the health of tropical rainforests and indigenous and local communities worldwide. The team of scientists plans to create an open data framework available to the scientific community.

In the semifinals, in addition to the LAB, researchers from the Image and Video Processing Group, the Wireless Networks Group, the Signal and Communications Processing Group, the Nanosat Lab, the Visualization, Virtual Reality, and Graphic Interaction Group, the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE-UPF-CSIC), and the Mamirauá Institute of Sustainable Development (IDSM) have participated.

Mitigating the decline of rainforests

The rapid disappearance of tropical forests is leading to the extinction of an alarming number of species. Despite this situation, suitable tools and methods to monitor the status of most wildlife and plants at the necessary speed and scale to effectively mitigate their decline have not yet been developed. Technology can help expand this knowledge and uncover previously unknown aspects.

XPRIZE Rainforest is a 5-year global competition launched in 2019 with a $10 million prize, challenging scientists from around the world to develop new technologies for rapidly and comprehensively studying the biodiversity of tropical rainforests and improving understanding of these ecosystems to raise awareness of the need for preservation.

The emerging technologies should help obtain nearly real-time data on the health and well-being of tropical rainforests and automate the assessment of biodiversity.

The competition, organized by the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation, aims for this new technology to support conservation actions and policies and to promote sustainable bioeconomies while empowering indigenous peoples and local communities worldwide.

XPRIZE Rainforest completed the semifinals testing phase in Singapore last June, where each team had 24 hours to test their technologies within defined plots in the rainforest. The finalist teams demonstrated the ability to explore a wide area of the jungle, capture images, bioacoustics data, environmental DNA, and physical samples, and identify them within 48 hours to provide an assessment of the ecosystem’s species richness.