In the heart of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, two Graded brothers were inspired to leverage the power of AI to transform wildlife protection. Senior Felipe B. has always been passionate about biology. His younger brother, João '26, is a talented programmer. All it took was a transformative trip to Pantanal for the pair to realize that by working together and combining their interests, they could make a difference.
In 2022, Felipe and João had the opportunity to travel to Mato Grosso to visit Onçafari, a non-governmental organization dedicated to environmental conservation and eco-tourism. With bases located throughout four Brazilian biomes—the Amazon, Pantanal, Cerrado, and Atlantic Forest—the NGO develops many projects to study wildlife. Felipe and João immediately felt the need to participate.
“I love biology. It’s my passion,” said Felipe. “So I thought, I need to be involved; I really want to help; how can I help?”
While touring the Pantanal site, the brothers learned about the data-collection procedures and tools that the organization uses to capture images of animals and saw an opportunity.
Senior Felipe during his visit to Onçafari, in the Brazilian Pantanal.
Whenever an animal walks by, Onçafari uses motion-detecting cameras to record 30-second videos. With approximately 70 cameras per base, the organization records more than 1000 videos monthly. Its team then meticulously reviews each video to identify species.
Felipe and João asked for some footage to work with and, combining their skills, created a multi-step AI model that recognizes the animals in each video using convolutional neural networks. The same technology helps unlock your phone with just a glance.
Nowadays, the brothers’ project has expanded beyond creating an AI model. They have returned to the Pantanal, attended day-long meetings, and, with mentorship from professionals at Google, become actively involved in assisting Onçafari to adapt the model to their system and improve and streamline other processes. One such project is an app that enables the organization to register and track all its camera traps.
In true Graded style, these exemplary eagles use their talents to help others, learning from one another along the way.
“At the end of the day, João and I really cover each other’s bases. I learn so much programming from him,” Felipe said, pointing to his brother. “And I learn a lot about biology from him,” João added.
Felipe and João have been working with Onçafari to adapt their AI model to their system and improve and streamline other processes.
Felipe and João also make an impact on the Graded community, both in the classroom and through their involvement in student clubs.
“Felipe is an outstanding student who embodies the qualities of curiosity, dedication, and leadership,” said Jenna Hughes, Felipe’s biology teacher and Biology Club advisor.
Ms. Hughes shared that Felipe has been exemplary in IB HL Biology, always striving for academic excellence. In addition, he excels in his role as Biology Club leader, enthusiastically sharing topics he is passionate about with his peers. She has no doubt that Felipe’s “dedication, passion, and drive will lead him to success in his higher education and future career in the field of science.”
João also shines in his role as student leader of the Computer Science Club.
"It is a joy to watch João share his passion for computer programming with other students in Computer Science Club,” said High School Mathematics Teacher David Griswold, who also serves as advisor for the Computer Science Club. “His enthusiasm is infectious and keeps the group engaged."
In the future, the boys plan to make their AI model free and accessible to everyone and hope that their work will give wildlife professionals time to focus on the more fulfilling and impactful parts of their jobs.
Brothers João (left) and Felipe (right) pose on the Graded campus.