Trees play a vital role in the carbon cycle of the earth, as they embody some of the world’s largest carbon sinks. According to studies from Yale, each year we have a net loss of 6 billion trees. This reduction and ongoing demolition of trees has drastically and negatively altered many of the earth’s ecosystems. Concurrently, not enough workers are available to replant and maintain upkeep in the forestry industry. Hand planting trees is a slow—and expensive—process.
Drones and data analytics are sprouting up as cost-effective and smart solutions for planting new trees. Drones can sow tree seeds where no man or woman can even reach, opening up areas that were previously deemed unviable for new growth. In addition, these specialty drones are fast and furious when it comes to dropping seed pods and can plant 100,000 trees per day.
Swarms for Spraying and Planting
DroneSeed and technology developed by BioCarbon Engineering are two of the leading solutions paving the way for sustainable responses to this global issue of reforestation. DroneSeed began as a small startup company based in Seattle, WA. Now it’s becoming one of the biggest industry leaders, as it has developed an IoT-based solution that has drastically decreased associated financial costs and labor needed to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem.
According to DroneSeed, the company’s niche is precision forestry, also known as forestry analytics, that it defines as:
- Forestland analysis
- Care by drone.
DroneSeed aims to repair and assist the forest industry as sustainably and efficiently as possible. Their drones are comprised of sensors that have the capability to construct 3D maps of highly logged regions. With the assistance of these sensors, the drones can construct intricately detailed maps, which in turn helps approximate the location of “microsites.” Microsites signify locations where future trees have the highest survival chance.
The company starts the process by using drone swarms as spraying units for invasive species, which is the first step in reforestation. The drones used for spraying can later be equipped with a module that uses compressed air to fire tree seeds targeted at specific microsites.
Biocarbon Engineering based in Oxford, UK, is another leader in the sustainable forestry industry. According to CEO Lauren Fletcher, the company’s drones are very efficient, in terms of the labor and financial costs typically associated with planting trees. He stated in a recent news report that its drones “plant at 10 times the rate of hand planting, and at 20 percent of the cost.”
These smart drones can significantly increase efficiency and decrease the financial cost of the planting process, especially in highly inaccessible areas, such as regions with difficult terrain and unstable weather patterns. The drone-planting process created by Biocarbon Engineering is scalable, making it a sustainable mechanism for addressing the alarmingly large gap between the amount of trees destroyed and the number replanted on an annual basis.
Photo: BioCarbon Engineering
The BioCarbon Engineering planting system uses multiple drones and Big Data for planting optimization. The firing/planting drone follows a pre-set planting pattern determined from an algorithm, which uses information from a separate scanning drone. The scanning drone can map an area within minutes.
Fletcher, an engineer who worked at NASA for two decades on projects such as the International Space Station and some of the robotics used on Mars, knows quite a bit about what can happen when developers apply automated engineering and IoT technology to biological systems. He recently highlighted the scale and impact of the drones, stating, “We're firing at one a second, which means a pair of operators will be able to plant nearly 100,000 trees per day. So 60 teams like this will get us to a billion trees a year.”
Go Green with Precision Forestry