Satellite data meets AI to protect the future of forests

Signal of change / Satellite data meets AI to protect the future of forests

By Gillian Phair / 28 Apr 2015

Using satellite data to recognise the extent of deforestation is nothing new, but recently there have been developments in the use of artificial intelligence to understand and predict the future of forests.

Orbital Insights is a start-up company that produces artificial intelligence systems which automate the identification and prediction of deforestation. In collaboration with the World Resource Institute (WRI), these systems can learn algorithms by analysing the satellite data provided by WRI to recognise risk factors leading to intense deforestation. Once the technology can recognise target areas, it can then correlate this data and make predictions about future deforestation patterns. This technology has previously been used to count vehicles in cark parks to predict retailer revenues.

These systems will help to understand the complex networks of land use change, production and produce transportation. They hope to use these information systems to add transparency to supply chains, relay evidence to law enforcement agencies and create protocols to improve overall business sustainability. The use of AI systems builds on previous WRI projects, which helped consumers track the origins of the products they consume such as Swedwood furniture, and highlighted the need for supply chain transparency.

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre / Flickr

So what?

Big data and artificial intelligence have been recently taken up by an increasing number of business sectors in recent years, for example, in shipping. This story also marks significant progress in deforestation surveillance, furthering previous alert technologies, such as solar-powered phones, which detect the sound of deforestation and transmit this information. 

However, it remains to be seen if an activity like deforestation, that is meant to elude laws, can be entirely modelled. There could be unforeseen effects such as illegal loggers moving to less protected areas to avoid detection. These potential areas of human or AI oversight have to be taken into consideration so that new technologies like these can be more effective and fool-proof.


Forbes (2015, April 22) Satellite Data And A.I. Will Be Deployed To Predict And Prevent Deforestation 

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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