Veld fires or forest fires are a cause for concern since they are destroying forests and grasslands at a rate that is faster than they are replaced. The bushfires are natural and necessary as they help to promote new growth. However, the problem now is that they are causing permanent damage to the forests.
The fires coupled with climate change, shrinking budgets, population increases, and outdated reforestation methods are compounding the challenge of tree decline. The US loses about seven million acres of forest every year. Due to a limited budget, it is not easy to replace the trees and the trend of declining forests seems to be growing.
Current Reforestation Methods
The most common and effective reforestation method of woodland recently burned mainly involves human labor. The human planters carry the heavy sacks of seedlings, and they manually select and plant them across vast landscapes.
Due to labor intensiveness of the current reforestation method, there is an increasingly high turnover leading to a shortage of labor. The other challenge is that seedlings also take some time to grow in the nurseries. It is difficult to anticipate a high demand for seedlings, and this affects planning for reforestation.
If no tree is replanted, invasive weeds grow in the old forests. Due to lack of labor and seedlings, the forest keepers will resort to using helicopters to kill the grass with herbicides. Helicopter spraying is a dangerous exercise given that about 80 to 100 occur yearly in the US. Again, manual labor through the use of machetes is an alternative solution to spraying, but it is not viable.
Automation Is The Ideal Solution
Robotic technology is significantly developing, and it is suitable for various jobs seen as dirty, dull and even dangerous. The advantage of using robots to perform tasks that are dangerous is that there are no fears of injuries. In this particular case, agricultural drone technology is a viable option of carrying out reforestation exercise.
The exercise of restoring a forest is dangerous and dirty. However, it requires more intelligence. As such, drone technology comes in hand to perform a task that is so challenging. There are many advantages of using agricultural drone technology for reforestation and DroneSeed is already taking the lead.
DroneSeed, a startup company in Seattle and it aims to combat this seemingly growing problem. The company seeks to use modern technology that encompasses artificial intelligence, drones as well as biological engineering. The new technology is complicated, but there is hope that it will help address the problem of tree decline.
DroneSeed anticipates offering its services to significant forestry management companies as well as government entities. The company already has an aerial vehicle license for over 55 pounds multi-craft awarded by the FAA. The aircraft has high-end LiDAR, camera arrays, seed dispersal mechanisms as well as six-gallon tanks for herbicide.
How Drone Technology Functions
The agricultural drones perform various tasks in the process of reforestation from mapping the burned forest to actual tree planting. The drones carefully plan the area with high precision and accuracy. The gadgets also play a role in identifying plant species and other objects in the area.
The devices also identify the types of trees that would grow best in a particular area. The process would help in the design of suitable seed-nutrient packages for those areas. The other important aspect about drones is that they are capable of scaling the national forests that are currently facing a threat of permanent damage of fire.
A drone is a learning machine that uses artificial intelligence to perform tasks like gathering information about a place. The information it collects involves things like ecology, soil type, native species as well as the type of fire that cleared the area.
The DroneSeed has a sophisticated imaging technique that collects detailed information than you may need to understand the terrain. The LiDAR, for example, produces a 3D map of the ground as well as the vegetation in the area. The plan helps the system to identify essential features like new trees, erosion, stumps as well as roots and other significant obstacles.
The system works together with a multispectral camera which captures images that are out of human range. The photos allow for in-depth analysis of plant life as well as soil. The data is crucial for drone navigation, and it also helps the operators to improve efficiency in tree replanting.
The drones also help to identify places with plants to be eliminated and only use sufficient herbicide to kill them. In case of planting, DronSeed dispatches drones in groups of five, and they fly under direct observation of qualified pilots and observers on the ground. The drones fly in calculated patterns to improve effectiveness, and they target microsites for dropping the seed.
The planting process is a bit complex, but the drones use their artificial intelligence to follow maps previously drawn. The drones use seed vessels that are customized to suit the environment and type of soil.
The seeds are then loaded into a puck dispenser which spits one seed at a time onto the exact site. The drone technique uses a numbers game to reforest the burned area while at the same time ensuring chances of survival of the seed.
Significance Of Automation
The drone-based operation is useful in forestry restoration since it is efficient compared to human labor. DroneSeed expects to expand its business considerably after demonstrating that the planting technique is effective. The method is more comfortable and manageable than hiring a thousand planters each year since the turnover is high.
Tree planting is a process that is vital and ought to be carried periodically to maintain a healthy environment. The challenge is that the process is labor-intensive, but drone technology proves to be the solution that can address the problem in the future. Apart from hiring technicians to operate and maintain the drones, it seems the method of reforestation is cheaper in the long run.
The other advantage of drones is that they are less dangerous than helicopters. An agricultural drone is not wasteful since it uses real-time data to replant trees in the affected area.