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Save the planet with drones and AI

By 17 December, 2019March 17th, 2020No Comments

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) estimates we are losing more than 75,000 square kilometres of forests a year.  It means the planet is losing 27 football fields of forest every minute due to deforestation.

*Photo Credit – Wollemi Wilderness Cabins. Blue Mountains NSW

In Australia more than 140 fires were still burning across NSW and QLD as of the second week of December 2019. The fires are expected to burn for weeks. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says that climate change has led to an increase in extreme heat events and raised the severity of other natural disasters, such as drought.

A recent study published in Science Magazine found the restoration of forested land at a global scale could help capture atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change. However, while it is still possible – there is a sense of urgency in executing such an action, at this point of time.

It seems that this challenge is now being addressed by startups, evidence that the startup vector is now being focused in the area of sustainability direction, with an application capable of facilitating the desired action right now.  Dendra, a UK-based startup, has recently announced a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle AKA “drone”) + geospatial + AgroTech + AI application, that could plant 120 seedpods per minute!

Dendra estimates it would take just 400 teams of Two UAVs operators, with 10 UAVs per team, to plant 10 billion trees each year. The aim is to plant 500 billion trees by 2060 to ‘re-green’ the planet. Dendra believes the technology – combining speed and accuracy, as well diversity of trees species, would enable governments to restore forests 150 times faster than planting by hand, and up to 10 times cheaper. Indeed, these are very impressive numbers, and any government facing a rapid loss of forestation should consider such a solution.

How to Plant Seeds with UAVs

The replanting areas are identified by a combination of satellite images and UAVs collected data. The combination of high-resolution sensors and low flight altitudes allow for the detection and monitoring of small objects, even in challenging terrain and in remote areas.

Small objects such as seeds and seedlings can be classified from complex ecological backgrounds using automated processes from UAV-imagery with high levels of accuracy.

The system is rather sophisticated; Low-altitude UAV high-resolution imagery and an automated object-based image analysis software are used to detect and count target seeds and seedlings from a matrix of non-target grasses across a variety of substrates reflective of local restoration substrates.

Specialised planting UAVs are then flown, loaded with seed pods containing a germinated seed and nutrients. Once in position, the UAVs use pressurised air to fire the seeds into the ground- at 120 pods per minute. The seed pods will then start to grow once activated by water.

So, automation and artificial intelligence allows us to plant billions of trees at an unprecedented pace. Yet, the innovation of Dendra technology, driven by analysed, near real-time data, is able to decide where to plant a tree, combining desired outcome with terrain conditions. In addition, the drones enable planting in areas that are difficult to access by foot, such as rough terrain, or disaster affected land, with no need to risk human life.

Given all the above benefits, it is likely to see such brilliant application technology deployed sooner than later. If we act now, the changes will take effect only in some years to come, when the trees grow.  According to Dendra CEO, the ecosystem rehabilitation will be viewable from space within four decades.

Droneseed – another US Based Startup with a similar application


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