Hear the words “drone fleet” and innovative environmentalism probably doesn’t leap immediately to mind. BioCarbon Engineering wants to change that.
The UK-based environmental tech firm believes that, by using drones, they’ll be able to repopulate Earth’s rapidly dwindling forest coverage at the astonishing rate of one billion trees per year. It’s an ambitious goal – one with little, if any, precedent in terms of sheer scale.
There are a variety of tree-planting techniques, including planting by hand and delivering dry seeds by air. However, hand-planting is slow and expensive, and spreading dry seeds results in low uptake rates.
Our solution balances these two methods. First, 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.
Speaking with Wired, CEO Lauren Fletcher explains: “Global deforestation is happening at an industrial scale. Governments and organisations [sic] are spending billions planting trees, but the standard method of hand-planting can’t keep up.”
To achieve their billion-tree-per-year goal, BioCarbon Engineering divides their reforestation plans into three distinct phases: First, the drones engage in aerial mapping to create detailed three-dimensional terrain models. They then begin “precision planting” by shooting seed pods that have been “pregerminated and covered in a nutritious hydrogel” into the soil. Finally, drones monitor tree growth over the course of a number of “planting audits,” designed to track the reforrestation progress.
According to Fletcher, the scale and speed with which drones are able to complete work usually done by hand (a two-person team could, he estimates, could plant thirty six thousand trees in a single day) means reforestation using his method might cost as little as 15% of traditional planting.
BioCarbon Engineering was a heavily speculated upon entry in this past winter’s United Arab Emirates-sponsored “Drones For Good” competition, but ultimately lost in the final round. Still, the company presents a tantalizing direction for the emerging drone industry: One where decades of environmentally damaging deforestation are rolled back by boots on the ground, and bots in the skies.