Notes from the Field: XPRIZE Rainforest Team Ventures into the Amazon for Final Testing Prep

Feb 16 2024

From behind, a man with red hair wearing a backward tan XPRIZE Rainforest hat and a backpack walks through the Amazon rainforest.

Photo by Kev Marriott.

As XPRIZE Rainforest gears up for its finals testing stage later this year in the lush landscapes of Amazonas, Brazil, the operations team is busy assembling the many pieces necessary for this upcoming milestone event.

This January, the XPRIZE Rainforest team traveled to Brazil to work with key stakeholders to foster collaboration and support for the competition, as well as to determine the testing sites that finalist teams will use to deploy their biodiversity monitoring solutions.

The visit itinerary included crucial meetings with government officials, international partners, and local communities. During these meetings, the XPRIZE Rainforest team engaged with government officials to work on securing the necessary permits and approvals for the testing sites to ensure a smooth logistical process for the finalist teams. Additionally, discussions with government officials and international partners centered on leveraging their expertise and resources to amplify the competition's reach and impact, emphasizing the global significance of preserving rainforest biodiversity. This collaborative approach underscores the shared responsibility of stakeholders in addressing environmental challenges and highlights the importance of inclusive, community-driven solutions for long-term conservation efforts.

A line of six people in formal attire with their hands folded in front of them smile at the camera.

The XPRIZE Rainforest team met with Secretary Rodrigo Rollemberg at the Ministry of Development, Industry, Trade and Services. The Ministry is a key partner for the upcoming Finals. (left to right: Peter Houlihan, Renato Godoy, Michelle Siqueira, Secretary Rodrigo Rollemberg, Jõa Francisco Maria , and Kev Marriott)

A line of five people in formal attire. In the middle is Minister Sonia Guajajara, who is wearing a traditional indigenous headdress and other clothing items

The XPRIZE Rainforest team met with Minister Sonia Guajajara Brazil's first-ever Minister for Indigenous Peoples, to expand our relationship with the Finals host country and commitment to co-creating solutions in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

Four people meet around a conference table. Behind them are maps of the state of Amazonas and flags.

Michelle Siqueira, XPRIZE Rainforest prize manager, and John Greisberger, XPRIZE Rainforest director, with Governor Wilson Lima and Secretary Eduardo Taveira. © Diego Peres

Two XPRIZE staff members sit across a black conference table from two USAID staff members. On the wall hangs maps of Brazil. There are also flags representing Brazil and the United States in the corners of the room.

Kev Marriott, technical lead for XPRIZE Rainforest, and Peter Houlihan, XPRIZE EVP of Biodiversity and Conservation, explore potential partnerships with USAID at the US Embassy in Brazil. Collaborations like this could help support bioeconomics and effectively use biodiversity data.

A man in a suit sits across a black conference table from a woman in a blue dress, who is taking notes.

Houlihan explains the anticipated impact of the solutions with the Vedis Vik, Envoy Climate & Forest, at Royal Norwegian Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil. Norway is a key supporter of Brazil’s Amazon Fund which accepts international financial support for efforts to fight deforestation. Photo by Kev Marriott.

After meetings in the cities of Brasilia and Manaus, the XPRIZE Rainforest team traveled into the Amazon rainforest to visit local communities to discuss the objectives and impact of the competition and the finalist teams’ solutions. This part of the itinerary also helped the team determine locations within the Amazon for the finalist teams to test their solutions in July. 

Three men in the rainforest look at screens on drone controllers.

Marriott and Houlihan conduct aerial surveys of a potential finals testing site in Amazonas with Secretary Eduardo Taveira. These visual surveys help assess tree cover, forest structure, and heterogeneity. While assessing the forest, the team also observed the understory and the forest floor for biodiversity. 

A man sitting in a boat on a river looks out into the rainforest on the other side of the river.

After the extreme drought in the region late in 2023, the XPRIZE Rainforest team had the privilege of seeing the resilience of the Amazon’s waterways first-hand. Most of the XPRIZE Rainforest finalist teams will be evaluating biodiversity data throughout the ecosystem–including the forest and local water sources like rivers and streams. Photo by Peter Houlihan.

XPRIZE chose the Amazon rainforest as the finals testing location due to its unparalleled richness in species diversity and ecological complexity. Its vast expanse serves as a natural laboratory, offering a unique opportunity to study diverse ecosystems and develop innovative strategies to conserve and sustainably manage biodiversity on a large scale. 

The rainforest can be challenging to navigate on foot and the thick tangle of flora and vines make efforts to use other technologies, like flying drones, even more difficult. Technologies that can excel in this harsh environment can be deployed easily in more tame and navigable ecosystems.

The XPRIZE Rainforest competition continues to inspire innovative solutions, fostering international cooperation towards the protection of tropical forests and support of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The recent site visit demonstrates not only the commitment of the XPRIZE Rainforest team but also that of government officials and international partners to leverage technology for the preservation of our planet's vital ecosystems. 

With the upcoming finals testing stage in Amazonas, the competition is poised to revolutionize biodiversity monitoring, driving impactful conservation actions and sustainable practices in tropical rainforests.