Drone swarms for tree planting and spraying operations

In Issue27, Video by FIEA

Towards the end of last year we covered an article about a Seattle Startup company, DroneSeed that was automating tree planting and spraying operations using drones. Their custom UAV platforms, equipped with multispectral camera arrays, high-end lidar, 23 litre tanks of herbicide and proprietary seed dispersal mechanisms at the time had been hired by several major forest management companies, with government entities eyeing up the service as well.

Since 2016 the company has been working for three of the five largest timber companies in the US. They’ve also recently signed a contract with The Nature Conservancy for rangeland restoration as covered on Bloomberg TV.

Technologies the company has introduced include;

Software to manage a swarm and boost seed survival. They have built the software to manage drone swarms and mission planning in the field ( Video). They’ve also built it to utilize LiDAR and Multi-spectral imagery to build a 3D terrain map and identify micro-sites and terrain features to deliver their seed vessels to targeted areas where they can connect with soil.

Hardware to manage economics. A single drone is the world’s most expensive backpack sprayer. A group of drones can carry payloads competitive with small helicopters, each carrying 26kg of payload. They’ve also built the charging trucks and hardware to allow teams to operate like NASCAR pit crews and keep drones in the air more of the day boosting unit economics.

Seed vessels to boost seed survival. The company has worked with nursery supply chain leaders to develop several tools that fit each species or biome. This means they have four seed vessels including: pelleting, capsules, or more advanced fibre-based micro-site enhancing projectiles. They have avoided a 1-size fits all and match the difficulty of edaphic conditions with considerations of seed biology to optimize survival rate per acre.

They’re also the first and only company FAA approved to use heavy lift swarms of up to 5 aircraft, each carrying 26kgs.

Details on the technology they’ve developed and opportunities for using it in Australia and New Zealand forestry operations will be outlined for the first time to ForestTECH 2019 delegates in November with Matthew Aghai, Director of R&D from the US company DroneSeed presenting as part of this year’s programme.

Programme details can be found on the event website ForestTECH.events.

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