The UPC is on the way to winning a global competition to protect rainforest biodiversity

Providence+ research team in Singapore

Providence+ research team in Singapore

A team of researchers from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC), developing a cutting-edge technology to protect biodiversity in rainforests, is a finalist in the XPRIZE Rainforest, a ten-million-dollar international competition to transform our understanding of the complexity of rainforests. The final will take place in July 2024.

Jul 28, 2023

Providence+, a team of scientists led by the UPC’s Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics (LAB), has become a finalist in the XPRIZE Rainforest. It is the only Spanish team among the six groups from other countries selected to compete in the final. The teams advancing to finals were announced at the 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology in Kigali, Rwanda. They now have to improve their solutions before the final in July 2024.

"Competing in the XPRIZE Rainforest final represents a unique opportunity and a great responsibility," says professor Michel André, coordinator of Providence+ and director of the UPC’s LAB, linked to the Vilanova i la Geltrú School of Engineering (EPSEVG). "Because humankind’s future depends on a planet with balanced natural ecosystems, we must provide it with the best technology to serve biodiversity. After spending 20 years developing technological solutions to address wildlife conservation issues, our team is ready to take on the challenge," he concludes.

Providence+ has presented Deep-Rainforest Operational Platform (DROP), a low-cost scalable drone-delivered autonomous multi-sensor solution equipped with AI to automatically monitor biodiversity in real-time. DROP is designed to be deployed in fleets, thus increasing the spatial and temporal coverage of habitats—in this case, rainforests.

This technology allows for the collection of bioacoustics data and environmental DNA samples, enabling real-time monitoring of hundreds of animal and plant species and assessing biodiversity.

The sustainable use of this new technology, within a responsible bioeconomy, will improve research and protect rainforest health and the well-being of indigenous peoples and local communities worldwide. The team plans to create an open data structure available to the scientific community.

The semifinals involved—in addition to the LAB—UPC researchers linked to the Image and Video Processing Group, the Wireless Networks Group, the Signal Processing and Communications group, the NanoSat Lab and the Visualisation, Virtual Reality and Graphic Interaction Research Group (ViRVIG). Also scientists from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE-CSIC-UPF) and the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development (IDSM) in Brazil.

Mitigating species decline
The rapid disappearance of tropical forests is also leading to the extinction of an alarming number of species. Despite all this, adequate tools and methods have not still been developed to monitor the conditions of most wildlife at the speed and scale required to effectively mitigate their decline. Technology can help expand this knowledge and reveal unknown aspects.

Launched in 2019, the $10M XPRIZE Rainforest is a five-year competition that challenges scientists from around the world to develop new technologies for rapidly and comprehensively studying rainforest biodiversity and improving the understanding of these ecosystems to raise awareness of the need for preservation.

The emerging new technologies should help obtain almost real-time data on the health and well-being of tropical forests and automate the assessment of biodiversity. Organised by the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation, the competition aims to support conservation actions and policies, and promote the development of sustainable bioeconomies while empowering indigenous peoples and local communities worldwide.

XPRIZE Rainforest completed the semifinal testing phase in Singapore in 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 ecosystem’s species richness.