Tree-planting drones can sow 100,000 seeds a day

The much-hyped promise of a drone-driven future—where drones bring us foodtake our selfies, and even serve as taxis—is not nearly as cool as this Myanmar community’s drone-driven present. A group of villagers along the country’s Irrawaddy River will soon use drones to plant a million new mangrove trees in an effort to restore the area’s natural ecosystem.

After several years of planting the mangroves manually, the villagers and nonprofit Worldview International Foundation are teaming up with drones and pilots from BioCarbon Engineering to seed an additional 600 acres of land—freeing up their time to tend to saplings and more mature trees.

The drones have two jobs in the planting. First, they fly over the land, mapping the terrain and collecting information about its topography and soil. This data is then processed by an algorithm to determine where to plant and what species of tree would thrive. Then, another set of drones is each given a batch of specially designed seed pods and sent out. Flying low over the ground, the planter drones follow instructions determined by the data on where to go and when to fire a seed pod into the ground. They’re accurate to within centimeters.

The drones are more than 10 times faster than human planters, at half the cost, according to Fast Company.