Every year six billion trees are lost from natural and anthropogenic causes such as over production of lumber, mining, urban and agricultural expansion, forest fires, and other natural disasters. For the one billion people that live in these forest communities, this is not just a loss of trees. This is a loss of healthy eco-systems, biodiversity, raw materials, food, and jobs. Globally, this affects the supply chain for every-day products that we all rely on and is a major contributor to climate change.

Increasing the planting rate while simultaneously decreasing the cost is a huge challenge. There are key problems with the existing methods for restoration managers: 1) Current methods are expensive and unscalable, 2) planting in challenging and inaccessible terrain, 3) monitoring and accountability, and 4) small-scale contractors not being able to access financing for landscape restoration projects. However, there are some really powerful emerging technologies that can aid this task like remote sensing, robotics, and machine learning. BioCarbon Engineering combined these into a single solution: to plant trees using drones.

To address the challenges above, BCE proposes an autonomous aerial planting system to enable industrial scale reforestation. The cost effective and scalable solution will drive increased global reforestation and eco-system restoration. 

The system works in 4 main steps: 

1 -   Land is mapped with an off the shelf fixed wing UAV and the data integrated by BCE algorithms with satellite, site access, species diversity and local requirements to generate a planting map, or pattern.

2 -   The precision planting pattern is uploaded into the autonomous planting UAVs, which follow the map and plant BCE-designed seed pods at the predetermined locations.

3 -   The mapping drones can be re-used to monitor the growth of the trees planted and gather data success and growth rates.

4 -   The data is centralised on BCE’s servers and analysed through machine learning algorithms to improve on the following planting operations.

Satellite and UAV remote sensing data sets are used to create a planting guide that considers the topology, nutrients, and biodiversity. The precision planting maps will allow the local ecologists to match the tree species with the correct soil conditions to ensure the highest yields and to establish a mix of planted species appropriate for local biodiversity requirements. The planting drones fly at 2-3 metres above the ground and have a flight time of 30-35 minutes (with a turnover time of 5 minutes). Each drone can plant up to 10 pods (trees) per minute or 300 pods per flight. The planting mechanisms use compressed air to propel the seed-pods. The bio-degradable seed-pods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components. These penetrate the earth, are activated by moisture, and allow the seed to grow into healthy trees. Employing just 150, 2-person teams, BioCarbon will have the capacity to plant 1 billion trees per year, and with the potential to scale to tens of billions of trees, each year. And this is at ten times the rate and 15 per cent of the cost of traditional methods.