The world burns or cuts down about 15 billion trees a year through mining, logging, and urban development. However, no nations, organizations, or individuals “have been able to plant enough trees to make up for that loss,” according to National Geographic, which results in not nearly enough trees being seeded to combat deforestation.
With big implications for climate change, an increase in mass deforestation threatens the survival of millions of animal and plant species. But as ecological initiatives push to regrow forests and farms like, technology startups may finally have an answer: drones.
NASA veteran Dr. Lauren Fletcher is one of many new tech entrepreneurs using modern machinery, soil-testing, computers and ground-based sensors to make crop monitoring and tending more efficient. Fletcher created BioCarbon Engineering (BCE) to fight deforestation on a mass scale, describing BCE as an ecosystem restoration company that primarily employs an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) nicknamed “Robin.”
The 30 lb. Robin drone can fly over the most rugged landscapes on earth, while also planting trees at the rate of 120 per minute. Robin drones scan the terrain and develop a 3D map of the area. Then using data from a developed “smart map,” the team uses an algorithm to carry out the planting strategy. With precise targeting, Robins gently fire seed pods into the earth at a dizzying rate of two per second.
Even after Fletcher put together a team of 12 experts with backgrounds in engineering, community development, ecology, biology, and remote sensing to form BCE, he still had to find the right species of tree: “This is about restoration of local ecosystems, full stop. If you don’t get the biology side right, then you’re not a solution. This isn’t just a convergence of technology. It’s actually a convergence of social will and political power that are all focused on this global problem.”
Speed is the most revolutionary aspect drone seeding and the future of “precision planting” technology. Precision agriculture or smart farming is based on the use of advanced technology in the management of any plants or crops to increase output without compromising quality. Even more promising, drone seeding has the potential to plant 500 billion trees by 2050.
Ecosystem restoration is proving to not only combat climate change, but quickly becoming an emerging and lucrative business opportunity. The need to maintain the balance between cost and quality has made drones particularly attractive for smart farming and reforestation. Drones are affordable and don’t require much training to pilot, but pilots do need certification.