Drones That Plant Tree Seeds Are Here, And They’re Restoring The World’s Forests
It’s no secret that our planet would be doing a lot better with more trees, and that would be an instrumental help in fighting climate change. Planting trees is actually easier said than done, but there’s one new technological development that could literally change the world.
Drones armed with ‘seed missiles’ to plant trees quicker and more precise can automate a lot of the work in a fraction of the time.
The first experiments were done in a relatively remote field near Yangon, Myanmar. In September of 2018, scientists experimented with a new technique to literally shoot seeds into the ground via drones. A lot of tests were needed for these special tree-planting drones, but the company behind the machines, Biocarbon Engineering, now believes that they’ve figured out the correct formulas to restore the world’s forests. They discovered the ideal environmental situation and species to make reforestation as efficient as possible.
Roughly six months after the first trees were planted, the field was covered in mangrove saplings of around 20 inches tall.
The experiment worked – and now they’re ready to pick up the pace and massively scale up.
“We now have a case confirmed of what species we can plant and in what conditions,” cofounder of Biocarbon Engineering, Irina Fedorenko told Fast Company. “We are now ready to scale up our planting and replicate this success.”
The company, which can be considered a start-up, has already planted some trees near abandoned mines in Australia, and later partnered with a nonprofit in Myanmar.
Up until now, the nonprofit Worldview International Foundation worked with the local population in Myanmar to plant trees by hand, but since the government allowed international business in 2012, they’ve begun experimenting with a more efficient method. They hope to plant four million trees by the end of 2019 and are looking at methods such as drone delivery to reach that number, as it is almost impossible to do by hand.
In Myanmar, over 350,000 hectares of coastal forest need to be replanted across three states.
That’s a massive amount of land, and with roughly 5,000 trees per hectare, we’re looking at more than a billion trees.
“Obviously, planting a billion trees will take a long time without the help of drones,” Bremley Lynhdoh, CEO of Worldview Impact told.
By hand, this would be an almost impossible mission. But with just two drone operators controlling 10 drones, you could plant no less than 400,000 trees every single day. Imagine what you could do with more drones and a whole team!
The drones are equipped with sophisticated sensors to map the area and determine the best method to shoot seed missiles.
An incredible amount of data is collected about the soil condition and the topography of the area they’re flying over, and that data is then cross-referenced with existing satellite data. Computer algorithms and humans can then determine what the best location is for each type of seed.
The seed missiles themselves are pretty cool terms, but ‘biodegradable pods’ would be a more scientifically correct name. The pods contain the seed and necessary nutrients and they’re shot directly into the ground.
Despite technological advancements, humans will still play a large role in the reforestation of the planet.
Some of the seeds don’t fit inside of the drone pods, for example, although that’s a problem that could be easily solved in the future. However, for now, the local population will still be quite important, especially for the reforestation project in Myanmar.
“The project in Myanmar is all about community development and enabling people to care for trees, providing them with jobs, and making environmental restoration in a way that it’s profitable for people,” Fedorenko added. “The forest didn’t vanish by itself—the forest was cut down by local people.”
The company behind the drones also wants to engage the local community in different ways, and are training some for more technical jobs. They’re educating people how to fly the drones, for example.
“We train local people to be drone pilots. And they want that. They want to be in IT. They want to process data, they want to fly drones, they want to do agroforestry, they want to do regenerative agriculture, they want to create vertical farms . . . they want to do all this cool stuff. It’s not the ambition to be a seedling planter for $1 a day.”
There are a number of organizations interested in using the drones to plant trees, and it could end up having a significant impact on the world.
After all, there’s room for another 1.2 trillion trees on the world, and planting all of them would immediately offset all of the carbon that we produce – and then some. It looks like the fight against climate change could definitely use some air support in the form of tree-planting drones!