Future farming: Using AI and drone bombing to plant seeds

What happens when experts in engineering, agriculture, marine and terrestrial microbiology join forces? They develop a company that drops nutrient encapsulated seedpods from a drone, mapping out their placement using artificial intelligence and monitoring their growth using GPS.

The method allows up to 40,000 seed pods to be planted per drone in a single day. It’s an Australian company taking on climate change with simple seeds boosted with bio-technology

CEO and Co-Founder of AirSeed, Andrew Walker, says the main aim is biodiversity, using three core pillars – science, technology and people. There is a range of species planted to improve the entire eco-system.

One of the by-products of restoring biodiversity is sequestering carbon. We’re able to have a huge impact on the climate crisis.”

How it works

The custom drone technology makes the process more efficient than planting by hand or using most land-based machines. But it’s not just a matter of scattering seeds on the ground from the air. It’s targeted and precise. “We plant in a specific pattern, in a specific location, we’re micro-matching species to improve the yield.”

Once the seed takes, the job isn’t done. The experts monitor for failure, success or threats such as weeds. “We have an accurate and expansive weed detection algorithm that we capture imagery of with the drone. We process it and it’ll tell us if that weed is invasive or native.

We can calculate the size of the weed and it’ll tell us what pesticide to use and how much to use to kill that weed.”

“We can use another drone to fly to the location to spot spray.”

The fact that process becomes entirely autonomous reduces toxicity of blanket spraying. Andrew says that capability could well feed into agriculture to target specific weeds that are damaging to livestock or the landscape.

A drone has the capability to plant 40,000 seed pods a day, compared with manual planting averaging 800 a day. The drones can also house 16 different species in any one flight.

Once the drones are loaded, artificial intelligence then maps a flight path and the nutrient dense pods are released. Those pods work to protect the seeds inside until germination and then the encapsulated nutrients stimulate growth. Importantly, after planting, the seedlings are monitored.

“We do come back to identify success and identify failure,” Andrew explains. “This isn’t a silver bullet to plant once, walk away and then you’ve got this amazing ecosystem generating by itself. They generally take multiple years before you can walk away.”

The team assesses which species are working and which aren’t and make changes as necessary. Science is the core of the business with analysis going into species, climate and soil type.

“This is all about passion for the environment. The science is just absolutely fascinating.”

We’ve got all these multi-disciplinary skill sets from microbiologists, soil scientists, robotic engineers, software engineers, compliance office. It’s an amazing cauldron of people.”

Natural disaster recovery

Some of the current projects include restoration to damaged ecosystems such as landslide areas caused by floods in Lismore, fire ravaged areas after the 2019 and 2020 bushfires and mangrove revegetation in Far North Queensland.

“The environment in which you need to plant there is very hostile. You wouldn’t want to walk into the foreshore in Far North Queensland with the crocs and the stingers.”

There could certainly be agricultural applications in the future particularly in the regenerative farming space. Research is underway right now. So, watch this space.

Hear more stories like this by subscribing to the Telling Our Story podcast on iTunes (or wherever you listen to podcasts) and follow podcast host Angie Asimus on Instagram for more updates.

Angie Asimus

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