A team of Microsoft Student Hackathon winners created a new solution for detecting illegal logging activities by leveraging Microsoft Azure and IoT solutions. In a blog post this week, Microsoft is detailing the journey of Forest Guard from interesting idea to useful real-world tool.

It all starts with the 2021 Microsoft Student Hackathon, which runs alongside the Microsoft Global Hackathon event. Hosted by the Microsoft Garage skunkworks division, the Student Hackathon tasks Microsoft summer intern 2021 alumni and their co-creators to find hacks for real-world challenges.

Held last Octobers, hacks focus on education, Sustainability, and Societal issues. Winners of the Student Hackathon Grand Prize ended their internships with Microsoft in September, but the team chose to remain with the company to form a new hackathon team.

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“We wanted to create an opportunity after their Microsoft internship for the students to stay connected to Microsoft and use the skills and knowledge they acquired in a new project and challenge that reflected their own passion,” Steve Scallen, Senior Director of University Engagement at the Microsoft Garage.

“We were also pleased to see how many Intern alumni took advantage of the opportunity to invite their friends and share their own Microsoft experience.”

Forest Guard

Those Grand Prize winners are Christine Wanjau, David Lutta, Audrey Njenga, and Gloria Keya. Together they developed Forest Guard, the winning project during the hackthon. Made from students in East Africa, the team created something that Microsoft felt was a workable solution.

“The Forest Guard team distinguished themselves with their passion for an important local sustainability challenge, their effectiveness in leveraging a portfolio of Microsoft technologies, clarity of how their solution could be impactful, and their commitment to utilizing their individual areas of expertise,” Scallen adds. “They were all summer interns at Microsoft, and they all have offers to come back, which they’ve accepted. We are very excited they have chosen to start their professional careers at Microsoft.”

Deforestation is a massive problem that affects us all on a global scale. Logging of any kind is devastating for the local environment, but illegal logging can have an impact that affects all our lives. However, detecting illegal logging activities is not easy. By using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services, Power BI, and IoT Hub, Forest Guard can go where eyes cannot.

“Forest Guard puts the sensor right on the ground and can be trained to recognize hallmarks of illegal activity. Sounds are translated into spectrograms, each with a readable signature that can detect the presence of chainsaws and heavy machinery, and even telltale signs of forest fire. When concerning noise signatures are detected, the Forest Guard unit sends a signal to appropriate authorities.”

The team plans to keep developing Forest Guard as they start individual careers with Microsoft. The goal is for the tool to become a real-world solution.

Tip of the day: Windows Update downloads can often be frustrating because they are several gigabytes in size and can slow down your internet connection. That means your device may work with reduced performance while the update is downloading. In our guide we show you how to limit bandwidth for Windows Update downloads, so they won’t bother you again.

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