We have all heard of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), being used for military warfare and high-tech surveillance. Over the years, the use of drones has shifted from predominantly military use to more industrial and recreational purposes. They have gained popularity in various industries including agriculture and construction as well as among hobbyists to capture outdoor aerial footage and images. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that one million people will receive drones as holiday gifts this season. Now one UK-based start-up, BioCarbon Engineering, is planning to use drones to benefit the environment. They are going to counteract deforestation by using drones to plant 1 billion trees per year.
Worldwide, 3 to 6 billion trees are cut down every year. Deforestation has negative effects on the environment including increased global warming, loss of species, soil erosion and water pollution. Lauren Fletcher, former NASA engineer and co-founder of BioCarbon Engineering proclaims “We are going to counter industrial scale deforestation using industrial scale reforestation. Destruction of global forests from lumber, mining, agriculture, and urban expansion destroys 26 billion trees each year. We believe that this industrial scale deforestation is best combated using the latest automation technologies.”
Using drones to repopulate our forests is a multi-step process. First, drones conduct an aerial reconnaissance of deforested areas and use mapping technology to create 3-D maps. Once the 3D map is analyzed, a seeding plan is created for the designated area to be reforested. The drones then fly along a pre-planned path and use pressurized air to fire germinated seedpods into the soil from a height of approximately 6 to 9 feet. The pods are encapsulated in a nutrient-rich hydrogel to provide the nascent trees with added nutrition to optimize their growth. After planting, the same mapping drones survey the reforested areas to evaluate their progress.
BioCarbon Engineering maintains that their experimental system is both more cost-effective and faster than planting trees manually. They state that “by planting germinated seeds using precision agriculture techniques, we increase uptake rates. Second, our scalable automated technology significantly reduces the manpower requirements and costs. Finally, our mapping UAVs will also provide invaluable intelligence on planting patterns, landscape design, and appropriate timing.”
Tree-planting drones can potentially make a significant ecological and social global impact. In 2014, BioCarbon Engineering was granted $30,000 in funding from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford, and anticipate that they will have a fully functioning platform by the end of this year. Fletcher explains, “We want to re-establish the global ecosystem but it’s not about the forest itself. There will also be a downstream benefit.” With reforestation by drones, the goal is to help create more sustainable societies with the creation of local jobs, new materials for local industry, as well as improved air, soil and water quality.
Photo and video credit: BioCarbon Engineering
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