When we speak about pollution and climate change, it is easy to see technology as a big part of the problem. And hey, it often is. From gadgets and cars to power plants and planes, a lot of our technology adds to the greenhouse gases and trash that we must address.
But ... technology can be used as a solution, too. We've written about countless innovations that remove carbon, produce cleaner power, collect trash, and so much more. It's all about how we choose to use our power of invention. Take Flash Forest, for example.
This Canadian startup uses high-tech drones to plant trees. And not just a few—we're talking about eventually attempting to plant 100,000 trees in a day, with the goal of 1 billion trees total planted by 2028. We spoke with one of Flash Forest's advisors, Cameron Jones, about this ambitious project, how it came to be, and why they believe it will succeed.
OWLconnected: Describe in your own words what Flash Forest is all about.
Cameron Jones: Flash Forest is an environmental startup that uses drones and technology to plant trees. We believe that reforestation is our best chance for slowing climate change and repairing the planet. Our drones shoot tree seeds in biodegradable capsules into the earth and we work with scientists/engineers to help the seeds grow quickly and the forests stay healthy.
OC: When did you first figure out that drones could be used to remotely plant trees?
CJ: Our CEO, Bryce, used to be a tree-planter. He was able to see how advanced logging machines were, and how quickly their technology allowed them to cut down trees. He realized that technology would be needed for tree planters if they were going to be able to keep up. Shovels and bags were not going to be enough. That's what spurred him to look for tech that could plant faster than humans and how he stumbled across drones.
OC: What backgrounds do you need to start a company like Flash Forest?
CJ: We bring all backgrounds into this company! Two of our core members were tree planters, one is a biologist, one worked on climate change policy for the government, one is a product designer, and we have three computer engineers. We also have multiple advisors with backgrounds in forestry, seed physiology, seed genetics, and soil ecology.
And as soon as we encounter a problem we are unable to resolve within our team, we reach out to experts. If you are committed to problem-solving, you will be surprised about how much can get done!
OC: Speaking of problem-solving, what are the major challenges to planting by drone?
CJ: There are many MANY challenges. First is having the seeds germinate and take root where they were planted. The second is making sure seedings don't succumb to drought or predators (rabbits, deer, etc). Third is ensuring that the drones are able to plant with consistency and precision. Fourth is making sure that you can collect all this information with minimal effort.
There are about 20 other challenges we are working through, but we are confident we will work through them all.
OC: How long has the project been developing?
CJ: The project has been in the works for a while but we started our first planting trials in Ontario last summer. We were only able to plant 100 seed pods over the course of a day on our first trip. By the last trip we were able to plant 165 pods in 180 seconds!
OC: Wow, that's progress! Are there certain species of trees that are more successful with this method?
CJ: We are testing this process with 20 different species right now and will be better able to confirm which trees are most/least successful after we conclude our trials this year.
OC: How close are you to being ready to launch this project on a full(er) scale?
CJ: We have already partnered with multiple organizations and universities to do planting all across Canada in 2020. We will be planting in British Columbia, Ontario, and maybe even abroad. We will keep you posted!
OC: How do you stay optimistic about changing the planet?
CJ: We are optimistic because of the amazing support we receive from complete strangers. We had over a thousand people from all over the world write to us and donate to our company over the last 45 days! These were people who wanted to do something positive for the planet and were willing to support us, just because they believed in us. We feel more motivated than ever to make this a success.
OC: Young people today are already passionate about the environment. What is your advice to ones looking to be more involved and take their ideas further?
CJ: Surround yourself with people that challenge your thinking and inspire you. You will be shaped by the people you spend most of your time with—so surround yourself with people who push you to be the best you can be!