Over the last several centuries, humans have felled around 2 billion hectares of forest, leaving behind an area of degraded land comparable to the size of Australia. To restore these ecosystems that are essential in our fight against global warming, we need urgent reforestation efforts that go beyond only planting trees but also ensuring that it’s done the right way.
In New South Wales, Australia, startup Dendra Systems is doing exactly that by integrating high-tech drones and artificial intelligence in their efforts to tackle land degradation – an original approach that’s helped them raise $10 million in a Series A round to scale their impact.
Apart from using the drones to plant the trees, the company is also using the technology to gather data about the trees and plants they’ve planted to make sure they’ve created a viable new environment.
“What we’re building today is really the full toolkit that you need to restore ecosystems,” says Susan Graham, Dendra’s CEO. “What I mean by that is caring about the grasses, the shrubs, the right mix of trees—the right ecosystem—so that it functions so that it can be permanent.” The startup uses many different species that can enable reforested land to better cope with threats such as wildfire, as well as accommodate more biodiversity.
The company’s process starts by using a team of drones to gather data about an area, such as a former mine or degraded farmland, and it then combines this data with that of ecologists on the ground. With the help of AI, the data is analyzed to identify the type of flora and fauna on the site and how much land is covered. This then informs the company about what kind of intervention is needed.
Once they have a good picture of the kind of intervention that’s needed, another set of drones later flies over the land firing seed-filled pods into the ground – a process that works much more quickly than doing it manually and that also can cover areas which are difficult to reach, like the steep side of a mountain.
Since its launch in 2014, the startup says it has planted 8.67 million seeds across hundreds of hectares mainly in Australia, and now plans to use the new investment to scale its efforts even further, including in North America, as quickly as possible.