Planting trees is a good idea for many environmental and aesthetic reasons. But doing it by hand can be expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes dangerous, especially if you want the trees to be in remote, forbidding places.
That's why several startups are looking at using drones to do the work. We wrote last year about BioCarbon Engineering, a U.K. firm with a tree-planing drone prototype. Now comes DroneSeed, a Pacific Northwest startup with a working UAV and two pilot customers. See its new video here:
"The way trees are planted today is shocking. You have people with shovels trying to walk up these crazy terrains. Drones let us do it cheaper and more efficiently and that's going to make a big difference in saving the environment," says Lauren Kozak, DroneSeed's spokesperson.
DroneSeed recently graduated from the Techstars accelerator program in Seattle. It claims to be working with a top-five forestry company (which it won't name) as well as Clean Water Services, a water utility in Oregon. CWS is interested in using drones to plant trees in riparian areas to increase river shading and reduce water temperatures. It says planting trees is cheaper than installing cooling machinery.
The drones have a flight time of about 30 minutes and can cover an acre in 1.5 hours, Kozak says. They fire out seed pods—containing a mix of "fertilizers, hydro-gels and pest deterrents"—at 350 feet per second (for comparison, paintballs travel at about 250 feet per second). The capsules nestle three or four inches into the ground. In addition, the drones can also spray herbicide to kill invasive species that harm tree growth, and they can measure tree diameters when the saplings are established.
There is certainly a big need for cost-effective tree replanting: about 6 million acres of trees in the U.S. are lost to forest fires every year. But let's wait for DroneSeed's first pilots to be completed before being too sanguine—the trees need to grow first.