A company is using drones to plant 1 billion trees

Emerald Pellot

When we imagine drones, we don’t exactly think of allies to mother nature. However, one company is reenvisioning a use for the self-piloted vehicles as agents of sustainability. Flash Forest wants to automate reforestation. 

While deforestation has become increasingly efficient thanks to timber industry engineers, Flash Forest aims to make planting trees just as practical. The project uses drones that can plant 10 times faster than the normal rate, at 20 percent of the cost. 

“There are a lot of different attempts to tackle reforestation,” co-founder Angelique Ahlstrom told Fast Company. “But despite all of them, they’re still failing, with a net loss of 7 billion trees every year.”

The drones use mapping software to assess the best places to plant. A proprietary mix of seed pods that germinate faster than other seeds is then dropped by an army of drones in the designated location. In harder to reach areas like hills or mangrove forests, the drones can even fire seed pods deep into the soil. 

Flash Forest’s drones can plant 10,000 to 20,000 seed pods a day. But eventually, as the technology evolves, pilots will be able to plant 100,000 trees a day — compare that to 1,500 per person by hand. 

In order to prevent a major increase in global temperatures by 2050, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests planting 1 billion hectares of trees or 1 trillion to 1.5 trillion trees. This would offset two-thirds of the carbon humans have added to the atmosphere since the 1800s — and it’s one of the cheapest solutions to climate change. 

Flash Forward’s overall goal is to plant 1 billion trees by 2028. 

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