The drones are planting out a steep ridge line in the Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan in Sydney’s south, where 85 per cent of the highly invasive species has been cleared so far. The park’s director of horticulture, John Siemon, said the aggressive woody weed had covered almost 20 per cent of the 416-hectare park before a concerted effort began to remove them.
The drones are being trialled with funds from an Australian Research Council grant as part of a study led by Western Sydney University. The start-up Air Seed claims its drones can plant up to 40,000 seeds a day, are 25 times faster and 80 per cent more cost effective than traditional planting methods.
The company hopes to raise AU$10 million in capital later this year and to be planting up to 100 million trees a year by 2024. Co-founder Andrew Walker said the 36-kilogram drones were built with off-the-shelf technology but were programmed to identify where not to plant seed pods.
A smaller sentry drone plots the landscape before seeding taking high resolution photographs and collecting data. “We use that information to identify the best places to plant, but also the places that you don’t want to plant such as fallen trees, rocks, gravel, roads and so on,” Mr Walker said.
“So, the algorithm creates the optimum flight path for the drone to fly and tells the drone where to plant those species.” Mr Walker said Air Seed also had a patent pending on its seed pod biotechnology, which encases seeds with organic matter to improve the chances of germination.