Tree-Planting Drones with Matthew Aghai
Reflecting on the events leading up to this conversation, Matthew and I had planned to record in the Droneseed shop in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. I was eager to see their seed processing and drone factory. However, at that time, just a few days into the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing, we did not cancel but we still thought it safe to reroute our meeting to a nearby Seattle Park. You might remember me mentioning wanting to record podcast content outside. So, I justified this meeting to justify purchase of some new microphones, and luckily some long chords allowed us to lounge in the sun and talk 1.5 meters apart on the first day of Spring in Seattle. Then, within a few days we were operating under new rules and Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order that currently extends to May 4. Whenever humanly possible, I am going to make a trip to Droneseed HQ, so I will give you an update when that happens. Meanwhile, I hope this conversation demystifies the science fiction of planting with drones.
To let you know a little bit more about my guest, Matthew is currently the Director of Research and Development at DroneSeed Co in Seattle. The mission of his company is to Make reforestation scalable. And to Mitigate climate change. Fascinated by seed-based restoration, I was primed to talk to Matthew about how Droneseed gets trees and other plants to survive on recently cut over, burned or otherwise disturbed lands in part by dropping native seed from unmanned aerial vehicles. Droneseed makes some hopeful and bold assertions that they can respond quickly to disturbances such as wildfire, replanting quality plant material with drones up to 40 acres a day and 6x faster than your traditional tree planter. And it may not totally replace people planting trees and actually generate rural jobs in clean technology if they have their way.
And these are not your every day hobby-model drones. And its not just one drone flying at a time. Droneseed has received the first-ever approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate heavy-lift drone swarms (of 6 or more aircraft) weighing greater than 55 pounds. They seem to be up to the challenge of ecosystem restoration, reforestation and reseeding as long as they have enough seed to make the magic happen.
I am cool with calling Matthew a restoration veteran. Previously his work as a consultant had sent him around the world to pursue reforestation including projects in the Central Midwestern US, intermountain US, the Pacific Northwest, the Hawaiian Islands, Australia, Europe, the Middle east and more. He has trained and practiced for over a decade as a nurseryman and restoration specialist. In addition to previous degrees in forestry and wildland management, he is a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington. Reforestation and native plant restoration have always been his mission.
Issues I hoped to explore and things that popped up during this conversation were:
how Matthews skill set fits into a startup tech company
how a team of drones flying at the same time function and how they end up planting trees
what scale we need to operate at to combat the climate crisis
the state of the drone planting industry and how its changing
the services that Droneseed provides for whom – what does the marketplace look like?
cost comparisons for droneseeding vs traditional people planting crews
how to source plant material and the supply chain issues in moving seed from its source to planting site
and much more
It is no longer science fiction. The future is now people. Can we respond quicker to disturbances and mitigate climate change by planting tough places with drones? Matthew Aghai joins me from Droneseed to demystify ever-adaptable technology. This company is scaling this technology up to what Matthew refers to as “terraforming-level operations using biomimicry” - package seed up to survive, load it into a swarm of aircraft and bombs away – plant a forest.
Learn more about Droneseed https://www.droneseed.com/
Join #TeamTrees at https://teamtrees.org or check out video from Mark Rober - former NASA engineer, current YouTuber and friend of science
Thanks for the Seattle band Dumb Thumbs for providing the theme song. You can find all of their tunes at dumbthumbs.bandcamp.com.
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