These Devices Could Disable Machines Harming Protected Rainforest Areas

AKQA Sao Paulo's Code of Conscience implores execs to install these chips in construction equipment

Indigenous leader and environmental activist Chief Raoni Metuktire presents the hardware mailed to construction tool makers
Indigenous leader and environmental activist Chief Raoni Metuktire presents the hardware mailed to construction tool makers. AKQA
Headshot of Patrick Kulp

As the Amazon rainforest faces unprecedented deforestation, CEOs at the world’s 10 biggest construction tool makers received a peculiar package this week: a sleek wooden sculpture of an endangered animal equipped with a disk-shaped circuit board.

The chip, part of a campaign from AKQA Sao Paulo called Code of Conscience, contains an open-source code the agency wrote in collaboration with environmental and indigenous protection groups that, if installed by the manufacturer, would disable heavy-duty vehicles when they are within the geographic coordinates of protected areas as recognized by the United Nations. The mailing implores the execs to build the hardware into the equipment they produce, and AKQA says it hopes that doing so will one day be mandated by federal law.

“The code is quite simple, but the impact can be massive,” AKQA Sao Paulo co-creative director Diego Machado told Adweek in an email. “This basic thought to us on this work was finding an easy and scalable solution that turns off any equipment that crosses a nature reservation border.”

The campaign comes after world leaders called on Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro to act to contain the tens of thousands of fires that have been ravaging the world’s largest rainforest. Although he eventually deployed the military to fight the fires, Bolsonaro initially resisted, siding instead with economic interests that profit from the clearing of the forest for development as he promised he would in his campaign.

Facing a government that often puts economic growth over conservation, AKQA’s device could help prevent the deforestation and degradation of areas deemed ecologically significant—but it relies on the construction industry to integrate the tech into their assembly lines. Still, the agency believes doing so will ultimately serve the best interests of the businesses’ bottom lines as well as the Earth’s health. A spokesperson said most of the CEOs have already signaled initial interest, although the agency declined to divulge specific names until the companies officially sign off.

“We believe in the economic viability of the project,” Machado and fellow AKQA Sao Paulo co-creative director Hugo Veiga said in a Q&A accompanying the campaign. “While a manufacturer could lose customers with illegal intentions, it could get others who not only believe in a better world but know the business value of this stand in an increasingly conscientious world.”

The gadget is also designed to make installation as simple as possible for manufacturers. It’s outfitted with location tracking that’s compatible with older models of vehicles without built-in GPS systems, and it uses a simple 4G connection to pull updates from the U.N.’s database of protected areas. The team took pains to make it as cheap as possible to eventually mass-produce.

The project was officially unveiled to the public in a video featuring indigenous leader and environmentalist Chief Raoni Metuktire.

“May all heavy machine manufacturers and leaders come and see this. So that the tractors operate, but stop when they reach our land, our forest and so it continues to exist. It is for our awareness and for the forest to stand up,” Metuktire wrote in a statement.

The creatives also worked alongside various nongovernmental organizations, including the Brazilian indigenous conservation group Instituto Raoni, the U.K.-based environmental nonprofit World Land Trust, rainforest research institute IPAM Amazônia and Instituto Peabiru, which works to promote sustainable farming among other conservation causes. Australian electronics design firm Tekt Industries also helped out with the mechanics.

AKQA says implementation of this type of regulatory tech is still in its early stages, and it hopes to continue to work with NGOs to push for the cementing of their use in law. While the code behind it is open-source, the agency also said it would be open to working with fleet owners or manufacturers to provide “large-scale, custom solution[s] for the cost of production.”

“We believe that machine monitoring in protected areas is a global trend—a one-way road,” the agency wrote in its Q&A. “Today, ultimately, it’s up to manufacturers to decide to implement the Code of Conscience. As this decision is influenced by economic, popular and political demand, we plea for companies, legislators and citizens to support the project.”


Agency: AKQA Brazil

Technology: Tekt Industries and AKQA Australia

Digital Production Company: Webcore

Production Company: Prodigo, La Carretera, Underdogs and Horda

Post Production Company: The End

Music: Hefty

Graphic Production Company: Arizona

Sculptures by: Eduardo Castanheira and Natalia Rocha


@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.