Greener, Better, Cheaper, Faster. Interview with AirSeed Technologies

AirSeed Technologies is a disruptive company that uses drones to reforest areas of the world in disarray.

Less than seven years. Far less than seven years.

This is the time left to save the planet according to the Climate Clock project, a virtual clock projected simultaneously on the most iconic buildings in international capitals to remind us of the deadline by which we must achieve carbon neutrality. The year 2030 is not only a symbolic date but more importantly a programmatic one.

With a steadily depleting carbon dioxide budget and climate emergency mitigation strategies still too weak, the right path forward still seems far from being taken. Prominent among all the countermeasures already in operation is the process of reforestation, a key ingredient for the future of ecosystems and the Earth more generally but a victim of slow and ineffective dynamics. It is now well established, in fact, how classic planting techniques fail to adequately meet the Earth’s need for oxygen and cooling necessary to limit the negative consequences of the environmental crisis.
The solution? It comes from the use of new technologies in the service of sustainability.

A great case study is The Greenest, created by the Swiss Institute for Disruptive Innovation (SIDI) and which, last year, took third place in Europe for the number of trees planted.

Surgical measures, then, but prepared to be implemented on a large scale, disruptive in nature and, above all, rapid, that is, ready to spring into action and generate a decisive impact in a short time.

These are the characteristics of AirSeed Technologies, an Australian startup that has conceived and developed drones specialized in tree planting, a system that will enable widespread reforestation at speeds that promise to be hundreds of times faster than those currently employed.

We interviewed the CEO and co-founder of AirSeed Technologies, Andrew Walker, to understand how planting drones can solve one of the most current and dramatic issues of our time.

An AirSeed drones at work.

How does an ambitious project with disruptive potential like AirSeed come into being?

AirSeed is a fast-growing environmental restoration company. We have developed specialized tree-planting drones equipped with machine learning capabilities and our proprietary seed pod biotechnology to rapidly replant large areas of land to accelerate global-scale reforestation. Our mission is to plant 100 million pods a year by 2024 and restore lost biodiversity across the world. 

AirSeed was created in early 2019. Our headquarters are in Sydney, Australia with a secondary satellite office in Cape Town, South Africa. We are currently working on projects across Australia and Africa. The goals for restoration projects are diverse and we work with landholders to address issues that are specific to their land. Some of the projects AirSeed is currently working on include: a rewilding project that will create an important wildlife corridor between two national parks, working with a young family who are passionate about restoration and wish to leave a legacy for their children and community, and bushfire affected land where natural revegetation has been challenged by invasive weeds.

Our solution is best suited to large-scale restoration and our work across Australia and Africa is needed to help restore delicate ecosystems. Our planting solution can certainly be used in other countries to address a global need.

Increasing awareness of global deforestation and biodiversity loss was the driver behind AirSeed’s inception. Both Andries (co-founder) and I share a passion for the environment and we wanted to create a scalable solution to tackle biodiversity loss and the climate crisis head-on. AirSeed’s proprietary technology was developed to tackle the scale of global deforestation, whilst the seed pod biotech was created to ensure we tackle biodiverse restoration the right way through strong ecological practices and a defined scientific approach. 

What are the main challenges you have faced in bringing such an extremely sophisticated technology as the one behind your drones?

There have been many challenges throughout AirSeed’s development process; the speed with which industry and regulators have adopted innovations in technology and operational approaches, the complexity of addressing biodiversity restoration practices across a multitude of geographical locations, terrains, climates, and soil types, and how AirSeed’s solution can not only have an environmental impact but also a social impact.

The founding idea behind AirSeed was to design and build new technology to enable affordable, scalable environmental restoration practices. However, we quickly learned that science and ecological best practices are equally important in the development of technology focussed solutions. Simply creating drones to plant seeds faster and cheaper doesn’t address the devastation caused by large-scale deforestation or natural disasters such as wildfires etc. Importantly, focusing on restoring biodiversity at scale, considering what species should be planted in which locations, and what function these species provide to that ecosystem (e.g. planting primary habitat providers, etc) is vital. 

Andrew Walker and Andries Louw, founders of AirSeed Technologies.

The drones developed by AirSeed manage to drop more than 40 thousand seeds per day on the land to be reforested. What are the steps involved in the operation?

The underlying goal of all reforestation projects that we undertake is to restore lost biodiversity to the land. This is also a fundamental principle of our company and is at the heart of what we do. This is achieved through ecological surveys of each site and by planting native species. Our planting includes trees, shrubs and grasses and encourages the remediation of soil health and the redevelopment of degraded ecosystems through the inclusions within our seed pods. 

AirSeed drones can plant up to 40,000 seed pods a day, access remote, hazardous and inaccessible areas, and GPS tag every seed pod planted. Our solution is approximately 25x faster and 80% more cost-effective than manual planting methods. Planting trees at scale is vital to tackling the climate crisis and reaching net-zero emission targets. This means that our solution has the unique ability to both slow the damage to the earth and heal what’s already been done. 

We also take an active approach in the monitoring of projects and revisit them regularly to ensure that the definition of success at the outset of a project is achieved. This is one of the most critical steps in the restoration process and is a key offering of AirSeed’s restoration solution.

How will your technology succeed in supporting not only the ecosystem but also a key industry such as agriculture?

Established restoration techniques of planting tube stock and broadcast seeding are either too costly to scale up, waste high volumes of seed or offer insufficient success rates to ensure success. As a response, AirSeed has created specialized drones and delivery systems that can plant up to 16 different species each flight and GPS tags every seed pod; allowing us to conduct in-depth post-plant monitoring. We manufacture our patented seed pods to be both species and soil-specific; inclusions such as microbial amendments assist germination and support early-stage growth. The effects of a changing climate underscore the need for more effective and innovative approaches to restoring vegetation.

Education and actionable solutions that positively impact the environment are at the core of AirSeed’s mission. We are developing technological and scientific solutions to aid the scalability and affordability of restoration initiatives whilst simultaneously ensuring our restoration practices address the biodiversity needs of that micro-ecosystems. Drone-based restoration isn’t a silver bullet that replaces traditional planting methodologies, but rather a tool in the suite of restoration practices that facilitates scalability through cost-efficient technology and novel science. 

“Educating people on the importance of environmental restoration and how the health of our planet is linked to human health is critically important and everyone should be part of that journey: whether you’re an accomplished ecologist or simply keen to learn how environmental-based solutions can help combat climate change”.

Andrew Walker, co-founder and ceo of airseeds technologies

The use of drones is not just limited to supporting reforestation. Is it conceivable that they could also play an essential role in combating the increasingly urgent problem of world hunger?

Drones and other innovative technologies have a multitude of use cases that could be used widely across many humanitarian problems.

What do you predict will be the impact of technology on environmental protection and social development in the future? Will it be the standards in planting?

AirSeed offers a unique and new approach to reforestation that catches people’s attention. We’re able to spark conversation with those already in the ecological restoration space and those who are interested and want to learn more. Educating people on the importance of environmental restoration and how the health of our planet is linked to human health is critically important and everyone should be part of that journey: whether you’re an accomplished ecologist or simply keen to learn how environmental-based solutions can help combat climate change. We share engaging and bite-sized pieces of our methodology and insight into our planting projects on our social media platforms, which is a great way for people to learn about what we do and interact with the process.

Australia is historically known for extremes in significant weather and climate events such as extreme heat, periods of prolonged drought, and vast bushfires. The intensity of these events is directly attributed to climate change and is accelerating in severity. Australia is home to some of the most unique ecosystems on the planet and many species of plants and animals face extinction if action isn’t taken, and scaled to meet the magnitude of the issue. By working to restore lost biodiversity in a variety of challenging conditions on Australian soil, AirSeed is able to demonstrate the ability of our drones and biotechnology, and apply these learnings to meet the need on a global basis. 

AirSeed in 10 years: what are the results you aim to achieve?

To build a global business that creates a positive environmental impact across the world by harnessing innovation, technology, and science.

A plant born thanks to the technology developed by AirSeed.

Tomorrow’s entrepreneurship will not be without ethical and social responsibility. What is your advice for those who want to develop highly innovative projects related to sustainability?

Entrepreneurs thought leaders and innovators that develop sustainability projects/technologies typically understand their company’s ethical and social responsibility. Business is the platform for change but ensuring the business is ready to adopt your technology will always be one of your biggest hurdles.

Do you believe you have reached the full potential of your technology? What other potentials are still unexplored?

Not at all. Technology and science are constantly evolving and improving. AirSeed is committed to continuing our extensive technological and scientific research and development programs that ultimately make our solution better, more efficient, and cost-effective for an ever-changing world and environment.

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