After our courageous firefighters have won the battle over the current wildfires in BC and the rain clouds finally bless us with some precipitation, the clean up and reforestation will commence in order to get BC’s beauty as close to pristine as possible.
This got us thinking of the thousands of tree planters out there who work season after season, planting an average of 1600 trees a day. They lift a cumulative weight of over 2200lbs, bend more than 200 times per hour, drive the shovel into the ground more than 200 times per hour and travel over 16 kms with a heavy load, every day of the entire season. The reforestation industry has an average annual injury rate of approximately 22 claims per 100 workers, per year (1). It is often difficult and sometimes dangerous. But people have been doing this for centuries in order to give back to Mother Nature and make memories that last a lifetime.
Buuuuuut it would probably be nice if there were robots to do all the labour, wouldn’t it?
Well, there’s one that already exists and it was built right here in Victoria…
TREE ROVER, TREE ROVER, PLANT OVER AND OVER
Tyler Rhodes and Nick Birch, two third year UVic electrical engineering students, have built the TreeRover through their company Iota Enterprises.
This first version of TreeRover moves between planting sites using a 4 wheeled electric drive platform. The planting process involves penetrating the earth with a pneumatic ram, opening a hole and releasing a seedling, then tamping down the soil surrounding the seedling to ensure it’s roots are covered. It’s kind of like an RC Car, on steroids (organic, of course).
Yes, it still needs to be controlled by a human via remote control, but at least the back breaking work is eliminated.
“Its mission is simple: Maintain our beautiful forests, one tree at a time, by combining exponential technologies with community involvement,” commented Rhodes. “With help from supporters we plan to build a much more advanced version of the TreeRover and plant trees more efficiently than ever before.”
SEARCHING FOR THE MONEY TREE
“The first goal is to produce a proof-of-concept prototype. It will be used to conduct a crowd funded tree planting campaign to raise money for technical upgrades,” commented Rhodes “Supporters of the campaign will be able to purchase a tree seedling which will be planted by the TreeRover. They will receive a video clip of their seedling being planted to share with friends.”
The second and third versions of the TreeRover will be capable of traversing more difficult terrain, typical of replanting sites and will provide a cheap and efficient alternative to traditional hand planting methods.
Rhodes and Birch both hold Diplomas in Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology (Renewable Energy option) from Camosun College and are currently working through the Electrical Engineering degree program at UVic. Two co-op work terms in the marine and forest technology fields have provided them with valuable experience in technical environments.
“Growing up in BC, we have both spent a lot of time in the outdoors. We have always wanted to put our education to use by helping to preserve the environment. Tree planting is an extremely labour intensive process and if it could be automated there is potential for huge improvements. We did some research and found that there is a serious need to increase reforestation rates. Future models of the TreeRover could outperform traditional planting methods and help significantly with reforestation efforts.”
In addition to being inspired by Camosun College faculty members, some of their motivation has come from local company, FTS (Forest Technology Systems). FTS builds and maintains equipment for environmental monitoring and remote data collection and plays an important role in the prevention of forest fires. “Their dedication to protecting the environment through the use of technology is something we find admirable.”
You can check out their project at iotaenterprises.com and follow them on Facebook. Stay tuned for a crowdfunding campaign scheduled for the end of the summer! You can also donate to their project right now, right here!
1: “Preventing Tree Planting Injuries” (PDF). Work Safe BC. Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia. 2006.