The UPC participates in a global competition to protect biodiversity in rainforests

Uakari monkey on a rainforest branch

Providence project technology developed by the UPC’s LAB monitors the behaviour of rainforest living things 24 hours a day.


Mamirauá Reserve in the Amazon, Brazil. Image: Michel André


One of the Providence nodes installed by the LAB in the Mamirauá Reserve in the Amazon, Brazil. Image: Michel André

Radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity

The XPRIZE Foundation is a non-profit organisation that aims to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Through large-scale competition, it attracts investment from outside the sector to inspire research and technological development that will help to solve the world’s grand challenges.

So far, XPRIZE challenges have dealt with space exploration, life sciences, energy, education and, more recently, the creation of fast and inexpensive COVID-19 tests.

A team from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech is working with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), the Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá (Brazil) and the Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) on a project to develop a technology that will revolutionise the protection of rainforest biodiversity. The project participates in the XPRIZE Rainforest, a 10-million-dollar international competition to transform our understanding of the complexity of rainforests.

Mar 10, 2022

Providence+, a team of scientists led by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), is the only Spanish team among the 36 international groups from 18 countries selected to participate in the XPRIZE Rainforest. Promoted by the XPRIZE Foundation, the 10-million-dollar XPRIZE Rainforest is a five-year competition that challenges scientists around the world to develop novel technologies to rapidly and comprehensively survey rainforest biodiversity and use that data to improve our understanding of this ecosystem and protect its biodiversity. The XPRIZE Rainforest also promotes business investment to develop new, just and sustainable bioeconomies.

Teams competing in the XPRIZE Rainforest are required to develop a technological solution to survey the most biodiversity contained in 100 hectares of tropical rainforest in 24 hours and produce impactful insights within 48 hours. The deadline for developing and presenting the entries is spring 2023, then 10 teams will advance to finals. In late April 2024, the winners of the first, second and third prizes will be announced.

Preserving the value of rainforests
Rainforests are critical to the survival of the human race. They play a key role in stabilising the climate by absorbing CO2 and releasing the oxygen on which we depend. They cover less than 10% of the Earth’s land surface, but they house some 50 million inhabitants and over 50% of the planet’s biodiversity. Although they are the most biodiverse ecosystems, there is limited knowledge of them. The value of the standing trees and the species that live there is not fully understood and our ability to gain more knowledge is restricted because the rainforest environment is dense, vast and complex.

Protecting these ecosystems from deforestation is therefore more necessary than ever. 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.

Listening to species with sensors, drones and robots
Providence+ aims to take the pulse of rainforests using a set of specific bio-indicators to monitor species in real time. This will help assess population dynamics and the ecoacoustic indices of the biodiversity of these forests.

This project was preceded in 2016 by technology developed by the UPC’s Bioacoustic Applications Laboratory (LAB) and the Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá (Brasil) within the framework of the Providence initiative to monitor and understand wildlife: the Providence nodes, a network of sensors that are currently and constantly monitoring biodiversity under the canopy of tropical forests. The system also identifies, through images and sounds, a large number of species, more than any other technology has been able to so far. With wireless data transmission and low energy consumption, it is designed to operate for long periods with no need for maintenance.

Now the Providence+ scientific team will enhance the function of the current nodes and include computer vision techniques to identify plants in these forests. They will also introduce non-motorised robots and drones to monitor hundreds of species in real time, for the first time without human input on site. The new sensor system will incorporate environmental DNA exploration technology (to explore air, water and soil) to detect the historical presence of both animal and plant species based on samples that may just contain fur, feathers or tracks.

Researchers also plan to scale up the implementation of Providence nodes in other rainforest regions and other similar biomes. The sustainable use of this new technology, within a responsible bioeconomy, will improve research and protect rainforest health.

  • An investment of more than 1.5 million euros is required to develop the technologies for Providence+. Therefore, the UPC has launched a fundraising programme for the purpose of channelling contributions from private investors, sponsors and donors. It can be accessed at:

An interdisciplinary and international team

Providence+ is coordinated by researcher Michel André, director of the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics (LAB), a pioneering centre in monitoring biodiversity and the effects of climate change and human activities on the planet’s most fragile habitats. Linked to the UPC’s Vilanova i la Geltrú School of Engineering (EPSEVG), the LAB has developed the world’s largest bioacoustic database, from the deep ocean to the Amazon rainforest, allowing real-time visualisation and monitoring of wildlife and biodiversity worldwide.

The UPC team working on the Providence+ project is made up of the Image and Video Processing Group; the Wireless Networks Group; the Signal Processing and Communications group; the NanoSat Lab; the Visualisation, Virtual Reality and Graphic Interaction Research Groupthe Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics—a joint centre of the UPC and the Spanish National Research Council—and the LAB.

The team also involves researcher Antonio Torralba, head of the Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (AI+D) Faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US; Javier Alonso-Mora, director of the Autonomous Multi-Robots Lab at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Netherlands; and Emiliano Esterci Ramalho, technical director of the Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá (IDSM), Brazil, which co-leads the Providence project.

In this context of ongoing work, the UPC will confer an honorary doctoral degree on MIT researcher Antonio Torralba on Friday 11 March. Torralba is a graduate from the UPC’s Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB). The ceremony will take place within the framework of the 50th anniversary of the School.

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