XPRIZE Rainforest Competition

In the 17th century, one in five ships would get lost between Portugal and India. Captains navigated their ships by “dead wrecking”, essentially listening to their gut. They weren’t able to identify longitude. In efforts to find a solution, sea captains, merchants, and scientists assembled in Great Britain and brought a petition to Parliament to solve the longitude problem. After testimony from individuals including the likes of Isaac Newton, parliament passed the Longitude Act, offering a €20,000 prize for a practical method of determining longitude. 200 years later, the Orteig Prize would prompt Charles Lindenberg to cross the Atlantic. Today, XPRIZE inspires the same, compelling solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

The first XPRIZE, named Ansari XPRIZE, was held in 1994. The $10M competition challenged engineers to build a reliable, reusable, and privately financed spaceship. Companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin would later emerge from the competition. Since then, the XPRIZE Foundation has hosted twenty-four competitions, inspiring unthinkable breakthroughs. Their latest competition is transpiring in the world’s most complex ecosystem, rainforests, an area that Space4Good is deeply involved in.

At Space4Good, our mission is to use “earth observation, geographic information systems, and big data analysis for meaningful geospatial insights’’. The technology we build, design, and deploy has taken us far and near with customers like the World Bank, the European Commission, Rabobank, The Halo Trust, The Carter Center, Ecosia and Red Cross. The past few years, much of our work along with Arsari Enviro Industri (AEI) has been in Southeast Asia, home to some of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet. That’s why once we got wind of XPRIZE Rainforest, we along with our partners at Arsari, Masarang Foundation, and Liverpool John Moores University, formed the Re-Forest-ER team.

Fig 1. Re-Forest-ER Team, 2021

The $10M XPRIZE Rainforest is a five-year competition to enhance our understanding of the rainforest ecosystem. There are thirty-four qualifying teams from around the world competing to develop autonomous technologies for biodiversity assessment by utilizing rapid data integration. What inspired XPRIZE Rainforest was the amount of biodiversity in rainforests, and how limited our knowledge of them is. Several sponsors and partners make the competition possible through funding, mentorship, and industry knowledge. Partners include Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), GIS software market leader ESRI, the Governors’ Climate & Forests (GCF) Task Force, and the National University of Singapore Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions.

Fig 2. Drone image of rainforest treetops in Borneo, Indonesia.

Alongside our partners in the Re-Forest-ER team, Space4Good is developing a platform to tackle these gaps in knowledge. Consisting of various technologies such as remote sensing, cloud-based geographic information systems and artificial intelligence algorithms, the solution processes and comprehends enormous amounts of complex data. The insights gained through the system support decision-makers, field workers, firefighters, and local communities in supporting regenerative and conservation activities.

Our overarching goal is to create a comprehensive and objective, data-driven understanding of the complex ecosystem of rainforests. In doing so we aim to better protect and restore these essential systems within the context of our obtained baselines of biodiversity, systems dynamics and species insights. In combining conservation, ecosystem services and sustainable agroforestry practises we aim to leverage the wealth of natural knowledge held within Earth’s forests for these systems to be maintained and derivative activities to work. For this, it needs to be monitored accurately, timeously and holistically.

The incredible value our partners add ensures the success of the platform well beyond the competition timeline. The Masarang Foundation is pioneering restorative rainforest practises in Indonesia. It is led by Dr. Willie Smits, a rainforest inventor who has revolutionized reforestation techniques and policies worldwide and is also the world’s most prominent protector of orangutans and their natural habitat, rainforests. His insight and knowledge on rainforests and local communities is invaluable to the development of the platform. The Masarang Foundation actively operates in Indonesian rainforests and provides us the opportunity to deploy our platform and assess its feasibility and effectiveness. To date, they have set up the world’s first palm sugar factory running on waste geothermal energy and organized thousands of sugar palm tappers, planted over 30 million indigenous trees, and managed a sea turtle project and a huge wildlife rescue centre for confiscated protected wildlife.

Arsari Enviro Industri (AEI) develops sustainable and profitable solutions for the global climate crisis that address food security and local economic development issues. In East Kalimantan, Indonesia, AEI is pioneering REBUILD, an innovative agroforestry model that promotes multi-species forest regeneration, produces renewable energy and other bio-commodities, generating fair and equitable jobs for local communities. AEI draws on over 30 years of experience to develop sustainable, equitable, and profitable projects. Through the REBUILD project, AEI offers a landscape-level, integrated upstream/downstream model combining restorative forest management principles with biorefinery conversion technologies to produce renewable energy products.

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) was founded in 1825. LJMU has over 24,000 students from all over the world and is the UK’s 10th largest University. Our collaboration is through Professor Serge Wich and his research team. Serge is on LJMU’s Faculty of Science in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences. His past roles include research at Utrecht University, the University of Zurich, and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program. Serge’s research is primarily focused on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Borneo and uses a mixture of observational and experimental fieldwork. Currently, the key species he studies is the Sumatran orangutan and is involved in research at various field sites of wild and reintroduced orangutans. Serge is also involved in island-wide surveys and analyses of orangutan distribution and density and the impact of land-use changes on their populations. Additionally, Serge is the programme leader for the MSc of Wildlife Conservation and UAV Technology

We are incredibly excited for XPRIZE Rainforest and the breakthroughs and new partnerships that will undoubtedly come out of it. We truly hope to enable mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships between “humans and nature”. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress throughout the next few years!

Would you like more information or are you interested in collaborating with Space4Good? Visit our website or contact us via hello@space4good.com.

Space4Good is our name and driving force: leveraging space technology to support impactful, inspirational projects and change-makers around the world.