Duke Rainforest XPRIZE Team to Compete in Singapore

6/5/23 Pratt School of Engineering

A team of Duke engineers and computer and environmental scientists aims to be the fastest and most efficient at unlocking the rainforest’s secrets

a drone in focus flying in a forest not in focus
Duke Rainforest XPRIZE Team to Compete in Singapore

It’s a rare opportunity, indeed: developing new ways to assess rainforest biodiversity, and then actually traveling to rainforests around the world to test the new technology in competition for a $10M purse. Last weekend, a group of Duke students, faculty and alumni traveled to Singapore to do exactly that.  

After several years of research and development, the Blue Devil Forest Divers have advanced to the semifinals of the Rainforest XPRIZE, a competition that seeks to enhance our understanding of diverse ecosystems through autonomous technologies. Co-led by Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Martin Brooke and Professor of Conservation Ecology Stuart Pimm, the Blue Devil Forest Divers are deploying customized drones to collect images, audio and DNA from the canopy to the forest floor. The team will analyze the resulting data to determine exactly how many species they were able to observe over the course of two days in Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve. You can follow along on their adventures on Duke Engineering’s Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.

a group of people stand in a line in a forestThe team traveled to La Selva, Costa Rica last summer to prove that its tech was operable. They advanced to the semifinals with plans to improve their drone fleet. In Singapore, they are flying large “mother drones” that launch smaller “baby drones” over the forest to collect the desired data.  

This kind of rapid autonomous cataloguing technology could help reveal the value of the standing rainforest and encourage the development of new sustainable bioeconomies, according to XPRIZE.  

The five-year competition is sponsored by the Alana Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports environmental initiatives, inclusive education and health science research.  

Those who would enjoy contributing to the species identification effort from home can participate in the Blue Devil Forest Divers’ “bioblitz” on iNaturalist, a social network of naturalists and citizen scientists, from midnight on June 9th- 8:00 P.M. on June 12th.