Robots and automation are helping to fuel biodiversity

In these modern times tree planting should not be left to chance. Or as Matt Damon said in The Martian, "In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option. I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this." So let's apply some science and see what we can muster. On a global scale we all need to get tree planting to help save our planet and fight climate change. Some people are doing very well with the science.

Over at Milrem Robotics in Estonia and in partnership with the University of Tartu they have developed two driverless tracked ground vehicles to become robot foresters. One is a planter and the other a brush cutter and both are autonomous. The planter can carry 300 seedlings at a time and will plant a hectare of new forest in 6 hours, totalling  between 1000 and 3500 seedlings depending on the species. The clever part is that it also records the exact location of each tree and passes this information to its "colleague" the brush cutter, which equipped with a cutting tool and precision sensors, will go in and remove vegetation around the seedlings.

The tracked vehicles exert less pressure on the soil than humans would if they were planting leading to less soil damage. The technology includes a combination of laser based sensors, cameras and GPS providing a 3D geometric representation of the environment. Using real time data and a human operator to intervene if necessary, the robots can move and navigate around a forest with challenging surroundings. One operator can supervise four of five robotic foresters and will only intervene when necessary. Using machine learning the robots should be able to tell whether they can cross a given slope, ditch or stream without getting stuck.

This should help with the global effort to plant more trees. There are several plans to plant a trillion trees which would add to the 3 trillion we currently have. In the UK it is estimated that by 2050, 1.5 billion trees are needed to achieve our nett zero carbon target. 15% of crop land will need to be turned to tree planting and growing plants for fuel. There is an ambitious target of 17% tree cover for the UK. Overall, it is looking good for trees, which in turn provide a massive source of habitat for insects, birds and other animals. Let the robots get planting!

Wasps out of season in England but very busy in Australia!

Wasps are presently overwintering here in the UK, or at least the Queen is, hibernating in a warm nest in aloft somewhere nearby. In spring she will emerge and set off to start a new colony somewhere new. In Australia it is their summer and the wasp season is fully underway with wasps busy building nests everywhere.

If she happens to be near an airport she will find plenty of redundant aircraft and opportunities for new nesting sites. Keyhole wasps, one of the 110,000 species there are, have been shown to build nests in critical plane parts that measure the airspeed of planes. Blockages in pitot tubes can make pilots misread airspeed and have led to fatal crashes. A research team in Australia have been studying these wasps at Brisbane airport over a three year period.

The research was triggered by a real safety incident where a plane had to land soon after departing because the pilots recognised an airspeed discrepancy. A blocked pitot tube was responsible, wasps had nested inside. The team 3d printed replica pitot tubes and put them up around the airport, they found that 93 were fully blocked by wasps over a period of 3 years.

Now when planes land they cover these tubes to keep the wasps out. Hopefully the authorities know about this at our airports!