Drones Are Reforesting The Earth
One great way to mitigate the effects of climate change is by reforesting the Earth. The world’s forests are the lungs of the planet, constantly filtering out CO2 and producing oxygen in return. But besides mitigating air pollution, reforesting the Earth will also help improve the water quality, provide a safe haven for both animals and insects alike, as well as improve our own livelihoods overall.
What’s more, ecosystem restoration and reforestation is also an emerging and lucrative business. According to statistics, governments around the world have pledged in reforesting over 4000 million acres of wilderness – which is larger than the whole of South Africa. And as governments are pushing to regrow forests, various companies and startups are looking into ways of doing just that and plant trees at a faster pace than ever before.
Whoever has planted a tree in their life knows that each one takes a fair amount of time. But for NASA veteran Dr. Lauren Fletcher, the answer is using drones. With that in mind, he created a company called BioCarbon Engineering, which designed a 30-pound drone, nicknamed Robin and which can fly over rugged terrain and plant trees in a precise location at a rate of about 120 per minute.
Fletcher explaiens why deforestation and reforestation are so unequally matched. “I understood why forests were coming down so fast, but I was really puzzled as to why it was so hard to put them back together,” Fletcher said. “[I] realized very quickly that it’s because the state of the art [method] at the time was really hand planters, people with a bag of saplings on their shoulder going out, day after day, and bending over every 15 to 20 seconds and planting a tree, and it’s really hard, grueling work.”
In order to get the ball rolling, Fletcher gathered a team of 12 experts in various fields and with different bekgrounds such as engineering, biology, community development, ecology, and so forth. The first step was to find the right species of trees that needed to be planted.
“This is about restoration of local ecosystems, full stop. If you don’t get the biology side right, then you’re not a solution,”
Step two was, obviously, to build the reforesting drones themselves. The compnay’s fleet of drones fire seed pods at a rate of about two per second from an altitude of about 10 feet. The goal is to plant roughly 500 billion trees by 2050. But to reach that goal, they will need more than just drones.
“Our solution is not a wholesale replacement of hand planting. There are times where hand planting is absolutely the right solution and sometimes the only solution,” said Fletcher, who wants to use planes and ground-based machines for planting in addition to drones.
BioCarbon Engineering isn’t the only such company to tackle reforestation from the air. Others like DroneSeed in Seattle, Washington are thinking of using drones in the same maner, and they’re already using them to spread fertilizer and herbicide. UK startup Aerial Forestation is doing the same thing, but instead of using drones, they make use of military transport aircraft.
Fletcher is optimistic about the future of forests. “This isn’t just a convergence of technology,” he said. “It’s actually a convergence of social will and political power that are all focused on this global problem.”