A new invention called the Podder can turn a drone into an ultra-efficient Johnny Appleseed, allowing the drone to fire seeds rapidly into the earth.
The device was created in South Africa. It shoots two seeds per second into the ground at a velocity of 490 to 984 feet per second (150 to 300 meters per second)—faster than the cruising speed of a passenger jet, according to Business Insider.
The Podder can be attached to many popular drone models, and shoots seeds using a pneumatic firing module.
AirSeed Technologies and the Podder
The Podder was created by drone enthusiasts Andries Louw, of South Africa, and Andrew Walker, of Australia, co-founders of AirSeed Technologies.
The express goal of AirSeed Technologies is to fight deforestation throughout the world, which contributes 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Reforestation is where everything starts. Worldwide there is a deficit of 14 billion trees a year, which equates to 1.26 million metric tonnes of lost carbon sequestration every year.
– Andries Louw
The Podder could certainly make a big impact in the effort to fight deforestation.
Louw and Walker estimate that just two drones outfitted with the device can plant up to 40,000 seeds in a day. Compare this to the average number of seeds that can be planted in a day manually, which is about 800, and you can see why the Podder could be a game changer.
Planting seeds manually isn’t just relatively slow going, it’s also grueling work, often leading people on reforestation crews to quit after a season or two.
Using drones and drone automation for the most physical part of these efforts—i.e., the actual planting—could actually lead to the creation of new, sustainable jobs for people working in forestry and related sectors concerned with planting seeds. It also has the potential to let them cover far more ground with less work, as the numbers above illustrate.
Louw and Walker believe that the Podder could currently plant a million trees a year, and project that by the year 2023 it could be planting 100 million trees a year. The specific location of each seed they plant can be logged vis GPS, so they’ll actually be able to measure their success toward achieving these ambitious goals as time goes by.
Challenges to Planting Seeds by Drone
AirSeed Technologies isn’t the first company to think of planting seeds by drone.
DroneSeed has been using drones to plant seeds for a little while now. Instead of using a device attached to a drone as AirSeed Technologies does, they use swarms of heavy drones created just for the task, which can weigh over 55 pounds.
The reason their drones are so big is that the seeds and other materials they transport are heavy. Also, the more you can fit into the payload, the more planting can be done in a single mission.
Recently DroneSeed teamed up with the Nature Conservancy in Oregon to help restore rangelands affected by invasive species in Oregon.
We are always looking for ways to innovate, especially when it can help us increase the pace and scale of habitat restoration to benefit both nature and people.
– Jay Kerby, Southeast Oregon Project Manager at The Nature Conservancy
In addition to weight, another challenge to planting seeds by drone is the low rate of germination. To address the need not just to plant seeds successfully, but also to make sure those seeds germinate, DroneSeed’s big drones come equipped not just with seeds but also with herbicides, fertilizer, and water, which significantly increases the weight of the drone’s payload.
AirSeed Technologies has tackled the problem of germination differently, with the invention of a carbon seed pod that’s made out of a soil additive called biochar.
Using biochar allows the pods to be lighter because it contains highly compressed charcoal made out of the thermochemical conversion of biomass. These seed pods are super small and light, weighing about one hundredth of a pound, but they’re also quite tough, which means they can survive being transported and shot into the ground before they begin to germinate.
Once in the ground, the biochar in the compressed seed pods works as a fertilizer, helping the seeds to germinate.
So which approach is better?
Right now it’s impossible to say. We do like that the Podder has been created so that, at least hypothetically, almost anyone with a drone could decide to start planting trees by strapping the device to their UAV. On the other hand, DroneSeed has created a robust platform that allows them to cover huge areas of land, drawing the attention of big conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy.
Either way, it’s great to see drone technology being created to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face.
What do you think—is one approach better than the other, or are they both good for different scenarios? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.