Our planet is losing its forests. Whether because of climate change, wildfires, or deforestation, trees as well as forests are becoming scarcer and scarcer. WWF estimated that annually we’re losing 75,000 square kilometers (around 28,958 square miles) of forests. In other words, that’s twenty-seven football fields gone every minute. So, it’s about time we think about massive acts of the planet’s reforestation. However, doing it the traditional way may be demanding, costly, and can take plenty of time. For starters, you have to include all the labor costs, putting up camps, infrastructure costs, and more. Thanks to the rapid advancement of technology, this can be made easier. And with just two words – drone technology. Can drones really help? How do drones plant trees?
Since it’s a global issue, it’s encouraging to find out that many stakeholders have such an ambitious plan to make tree-planting drones happen. These stakeholders include many innovative companies and startups from all corners of the world. They have partnered with drone manufacturers and well-established foundations, venture capital firms, and other organizations to include drones in the planting process. Speaking of that, each process, although different, includes drones and other technological innovations such as advanced software and even AI. Let’s take a look at some of these startups, their work, and how they plan to end deforestation and make the planet green again.
The Process: How Drones Plant Trees
While each company may use different methods and processes, the steps regarding how they do it are more or less similar. They’re tweaked according to local conditions as well as needs, funds, and similar factors.
Typically, the drone-planting processes aren’t very expensive compared to physical labor. That’s because the entire system operates without heavy and state-of-the-art machinery.
Firstly, drones have to survey the planting ground. During this aerial scan, the drone can create a three-dimensional map of the topography. That way users receive crucial data like the quality of the soil as well as other topography-like information. If the land that should be covered is larger, more drones can be used.
Once the developing team has all the necessary information, software and algorithms help to determine a planting pattern. Further, they identify the most suitable spots for new trees.
Next, the drone is loaded with germinated seeds, which are usually placed in a pod. What’s more, some startups even include seeds from multiple tree species inside a single pod. Besides these pods or cans, the drone is equipped with the planting pattern so that it ‘knows’ where to plant them.
After this, the drone takes flight. When it gets to a suitable spot, it shoots a seed-containing pod into the soil. It usually does it from a meter (approx. three feet) or two above the ground. When the pods touch the ground, they break open. This way, a germinated seed has a chance to take root in the soil.
However, drone-planting startups don’t end their feat here. Later on, drones can execute low-flight monitoring of the growth and health of the plants, which will eventually turn into trees. It’s evident why many consider the process simple yet very efficient.
Startups and Drone Manufacturers Partner to Plant Trees with Drones
BioCarbon Engineering’s Method for 100,000 Drone-Planted Trees Daily
One of the leading companies for reforestation with the usage of drones is BioCarbon Engineering. It’s based in Oxford in the United Kingdom and has partnered with VulcanUAV – one of the world’s largest drone manufacturers.
They claim that they can fire down seed-filled pods in just a second. This translates into 100,000 pods or trees per day. Subsequently, a billion trees can annually be planted this way with sixty teams participating.
What’s interesting is that people can use this method in hard-to-reach locations, too. Further, the seed-firing drones present an opportunity for rehabilitation of mine sights. An example is the recent testing at the mines in Dungog in Australia.
When it comes to funding, the startup has partnered with the European drone group called Parrot, as well as with SYSTEMIQ, the Skoll Foundation, and more.
Precision Forestry Plan by DroneSeed
A US-based startup called DroneSeed also works in the field of reforestation and battling the effects of climate change with drone tech. It has a so-called precision forestry plan and enriches its tree-planting drone method.
Besides just seeds, the pods also have fertilizers as well as pest deterrents to increase the quality and chance of survival. To further optimize the drone flight and the entire efficiency of the model, DroneSeed uses machine learning.
Moreover, the company has been focusing on replanting zones that have been destroyed by wildfires. Because of that, the drones that the company uses are heavier than the allowed weight stated in drone laws. But, it has managed to secure permission from the FAA for the project.
In fact, DroneSeed’s idea has attracted the attention of plenty of investors. Some of them include the venture capital firm Social Capital, Spero Ventures, and more.
AirSeed Technologies’ Podder
Two drone enthusiasts (one from South Africa and the other from Australia) have founded AirSpeed Technologies. The company has been working on the Podder.
It’s a unique device that transforms a drone into a real tree-planting machine. What’s more, the device can fire two seeds per second into the ground. The founders, Louw and Walker, believe that two drones equipped with a Podder each can plant a maximum of 40,000 trees daily. This is way faster than the manual tree-planting performed by individuals.
According to their projections, Podder-equipped drones could be planting a hundred million trees annually by 2030.
Dendra’s Ambitious Plan of Planting 500 Billion Trees with Drones
As technology progresses and develops, startups are getting more ambitious and innovative about their ideas. Further, this UK-based company claims that planting 10 billion trees with drones yearly is possible. It plans to achieve this with 400 teams and 10 drones per team. By the year 2060, it projects this number to increase to 500 billion trees.
Moreover, thanks to AI, enhanced satellite images, and other drone-acquired information, Dendra Systems believes that governments can rapidly restore entire forests and at a lower price.
Flash Forest Replants Wildlife-Stricken Areas
This startup originates from Canada. Since its founding at the start of 2019, Flash Forest has successfully planted trees in British Columbia and close to Toronto. The need for this appeared after a far-reaching wildfire burned the land in those areas. But this is only the beginning. The small team behind the startup has big plans to expand the projects for restoring forests to Hawaii, Malaysia, Australia, and other locations.
With its current technology, it’s able to place from 10,000 to 20,000 pods of seeds in the ground. Yet according to the company, as its technology keeps developing, the team will soon be capable of planting 100,000 trees daily. In fact, by 2028, it plans to plant as much as one billion trees overall.
Innovative Drone Solution by Dronecoria
Based in Spain, Dronecoria is another startup that uses drones to plant trees. The team consists of experts from various fields like engineers, architects, and landscape designers. Indeed, they are focused on re-greening the world efficiently with reduced costs. To assist them with this, they have a specially-designed drone for this purpose.
Having said that, this low-cost drone is cut with a laser and is assembled in just a few hours. Due to its design that resembles a hexacopter, it’s stable and covers vast areas. More precisely, it can transport a maximum of half a million seeds to the right locations. To put this into action, the company embarked on a pilot project to plant 100,000 seeds in a national park in Spain. So, the calculations say that its drone can do that in a ten-minute flight.
Supporting Tree-Planting Drone Programs and Ideas
Soon when you’ll be out in the open, you may hear a soft buzzing that doesn’t sound like an insect. It may be a tree-planting drone nearby. As we saw, startups from the United States, Europe, Africa, and other areas are working on bridging drone technology and nature.
We, at The Drones World, applaud these drone innovations and using drones for good. Hence, that’s why we’re encouraging all kind of support for these initiatives. Whether it’s through donating or simply spreading the word around with our friends and families, ideas like these can put a full stop to deforestation and the constant loss of trees.