Robots Save Earth

Science Fiction has been less-than-kind when it comes to giving robots an environmentally friendly outlook. Robots are supposed to destroy the world, not save it, right? Nay. Nay I say. And so also says Anna-Karin Bergkvist, designer of this tree planting robot. Reforestation on the horizon, that’s what this robot says. Four legs, extendable planting arm, and planting head. That’s what we’ve got here. One green robot walker.

This machine is built to be small and tread lightly so that it has as little negative impact on the plants and animals it must walk through in order to get around the newly planted forest. By using hot steam to destroy competing vegetation (choking vines that kill trees, for example), it poses no threat to the animals that afterward come upon planting spots. Each seed is planted with a biodegradable plastic protective barrier, protecting it from bugs until it’s old enough that they could take chomps and it’d still survive. The robot itself is run on steam and fueled by “forestry waste” such as animal pellets and wood chips.

One robot can carry around 320 seedlings in one load. Seeds are fed into the machine at the front and loaded onto a revolving cartridge until full – at which point the robot begins it’s cycle. The robot stands in place, planting as many seeds as is reasonable and it can reach in one location. Once finished, the arm retracts to fill up again as the robot moves on to the next location.

There is a trailer involved in this situation also, the one that brings the robot to the locations it’s going to seed. Once in place, the robot uses this trailer as a base camp, returning as needed to re-fill with seeds, fuel, and water automatically. The robot can work in patterns, a complete “virtual forest” can be programmed into it for planting. Landscape Architects, get out your pencils and pads!

Designer: Anna-Karin Bergkvist

73 Comments

  • Kim says:

    Ingenious! Wonderful

    • carl says:

      could this bot do a better job than a human? no

      • Steven says:

        Define "better". It can work day and night, non-stop, possibly for years. It can plant seeds in optimal patterns to ensure best growth rates given the terrain, amount of sunshine/rain a spot receives on average, and many other factors. It could monitor the forest 'health' in real time and map an optimal planting path to help recover the forest in the shortest time. Costs would continually decrease as the technology is used, eventually making them far cheaper and more efficient than a human yearly salary. Maintenance costs would be cheaper than benefits, overtime, breaks, health insurance, HR, 401k's, and other human support costs. And this doesn't even include inevitable further advances as they are deployed and other technologies become available. Perhaps ground-pentrating radar to detect soil-depth, underwater river systems, and places where trees would be optimal to prevent soil erosion. Perhaps also hovering or silent flight technology could allow them to traverse any terrain without disturbing or damaging nature. Humans could do all these things as well, however at a much slower pace and much higher costs.

        So yea, in my opinion, these could do a much better job than humans could do.

        • mif991 says:

          You could work for the government. They are good at selling us into spending like it is no big deal. You don't even know how much it would cost to make and maintain an artificial intelligent robot like this and you are already assuming it would eventually cost less than a human salary. I am sure that if there is a need to plant seeds just call out and organize volunteers, I am sure they will gladly do it for free, and I am sure they will not "damage" nature.

        • Crom says:

          Have you ever done any tree planting? I have. Let me assure you that it will always be cheaper and more efficient to have humans to do this – always.

          Terrain like what is pictured – clear of debris, without large and frequent obstacles, and on level terrain – only accounts for about 10% of planting blocks. This machine would be useless in most locations I've seen. Furthermore, there are no "benefits, overtime, breaks, health insurance, HR, 401k's" that I know of in the tree planting world. As well, all of the monitoring and assessment you mention – forest monitoring, soil analysis, finding optimal planting zones – (and much much more) is already done by humans, typically logging companies, and are not part of the function of this machine. This information informs the job planters do, judgements are made with every single tree as to where it is best planted, the conditions and substrait for a given species, and this would not be better done by a machine – not in our life time.

          You also mention, "flight technology could allow them to traverse any terrain without disturbing or damaging nature." These locations, that were just days ago pristine forest, have been totally devastated: roads were cut into them, distubing and in some cases destroying vital and sensative habitat like creeks, streams and rivers; and then they were logged, completely denuded of vegetation (save maybe some moss and lichen) by two tonne feller bunchers; and then had some four tonne skidders, forwarders, and harvesters traverse across the entire area, stacking trees and moving debris into "burn piles;" had more trucks come in to haul out the raw logs; and then had those massive "burn piles" dispursed across the whole area set on fire… Unless they release lethal volumes of radiation, I really don't think the impact of these little robots would have even a slight impact – even if there were hundreds of them – to the overall health of this ecosystem.

          We actually don't need to be logging the way we do. Sustainable logging practices create jobs, maintain (and even improve) ecosystems, and don't even require replanting… This robot supports the status quo rather than being innovative.

      • max middleton says:

        you are right, but humans are to busy destroying the forest. might as well have something out there doing it all the time. thats is awesome i hope mass production occurs and send them everywhere!

  • Kim says:

    Ingenious! Wonderful

    • carl says:

      could this bot do a better job than a human? no

      • Steven says:

        Define “better”. It can work day and night, non-stop, possibly for years. It can plant seeds in optimal patterns to ensure best growth rates given the terrain, amount of sunshine/rain a spot receives on average, and many other factors. It could monitor the forest 'health' in real time and map an optimal planting path to help recover the forest in the shortest time. Costs would continually decrease as the technology is used, eventually making them far cheaper and more efficient than a human yearly salary. Maintenance costs would be cheaper than benefits, overtime, breaks, health insurance, HR, 401k's, and other human support costs. And this doesn't even include inevitable further advances as they are deployed and other technologies become available. Perhaps ground-pentrating radar to detect soil-depth, underwater river systems, and places where trees would be optimal to prevent soil erosion. Perhaps also hovering or silent flight technology could allow them to traverse any terrain without disturbing or damaging nature. Humans could do all these things as well, however at a much slower pace and much higher costs.

        So yea, in my opinion, these could do a much better job than humans could do.

        • mif991 says:

          You could work for the government. They are good at selling us into spending like it is no big deal. You don't even know how much it would cost to make and maintain an artificial intelligent robot like this and you are already assuming it would eventually cost less than a human salary. I am sure that if there is a need to plant seeds just call out and organize volunteers, I am sure they will gladly do it for free, and I am sure they will not “damage” nature.

        • Crom says:

          Have you ever done any tree planting? I have. Let me assure you that it will always be cheaper and more efficient to have humans to do this – always.

          Terrain like what is pictured – clear of debris, without large and frequent obstacles, and on level terrain – only accounts for about 10% of planting blocks. This machine would be useless in most locations I've seen. Furthermore, there are no “benefits, overtime, breaks, health insurance, HR, 401k's” that I know of in the tree planting world. As well, all of the monitoring and assessment you mention – forest monitoring, soil analysis, finding optimal planting zones – (and much much more) is already done by humans, typically logging companies, and are not part of the function of this machine. This information informs the job planters do, judgements are made with every single tree as to where it is best planted, the conditions and substrait for a given species, and this would not be better done by a machine – not in our life time.

          You also mention, “flight technology could allow them to traverse any terrain without disturbing or damaging nature.” These locations, that were just days ago pristine forest, have been totally devastated: roads were cut into them, distubing and in some cases destroying vital and sensative habitat like creeks, streams and rivers; and then they were logged, completely denuded of vegetation (save maybe some moss and lichen) by two tonne feller bunchers; and then had some four tonne skidders, forwarders, and harvesters traverse across the entire area, stacking trees and moving debris into “burn piles;” had more trucks come in to haul out the raw logs; and then had those massive “burn piles” dispursed across the whole area set on fire… Unless they release lethal volumes of radiation, I really don't think the impact of these little robots would have even a slight impact – even if there were hundreds of them – to the overall health of this ecosystem.

          We actually don't need to be logging the way we do. Sustainable logging practices create jobs, maintain (and even improve) ecosystems, and don't even require replanting… This robot supports the status quo rather than being innovative.

        • anon1111 says:

          your stupid. i like my job thus far, dumb idea,

      • max middleton says:

        you are right, but humans are to busy destroying the forest. might as well have something out there doing it all the time. thats is awesome i hope mass production occurs and send them everywhere!

  • Roy says:

    This. This here punched me right in the stomach. We need it, we will use it… and so it exposes a reason why we are a failed species.
    You should probably design these to be totally self sufficient and autonomic, and than when that's done, I'll be happy to press the big red button.

    • mif991 says:

      I do not share your opinion that we are a failed species. Yes we have flaws and too many people commit terrible atrocities. But there are so many more people that are committed to make this world a better place (and I am not talking about politicians!) but it goes unreported. It is time to turn off the TV and take on a good cause. You'll feel better.

  • Roy says:

    This. This here punched me right in the stomach. We need it, we will use it… and so it exposes a reason why we are a failed species.
    You should probably design these to be totally self sufficient and autonomic, and than when that's done, I'll be happy to press the big red button.

    • mif991 says:

      I do not share your opinion that we are a failed species. Yes we have flaws and too many people commit terrible atrocities. But there are so many more people that are committed to make this world a better place (and I am not talking about politicians!) but it goes unreported. It is time to turn off the TV and take on a good cause. You'll feel better.

  • Jacqued says:

    I guess I'm not seeing why it's nessecary.. can't we just use, um, people to replant forests?? Hmmm.. now that I think about it a little more, perhaps in more exotic places that are inaccessable to people (other than the loggers, of course) this little guy is perfect… Would have been a good point to make in the post..

    Over all, though well done!!!!! Glad people are thinking about regrowth when designing sophisticated bots.

  • Jacqued says:

    I guess I'm not seeing why it's nessecary.. can't we just use, um, people to replant forests?? Hmmm.. now that I think about it a little more, perhaps in more exotic places that are inaccessable to people (other than the loggers, of course) this little guy is perfect… Would have been a good point to make in the post..

    Over all, though well done!!!!! Glad people are thinking about regrowth when designing sophisticated bots.

  • quantum says:

    It should include other forms of power like solar, the current method mention dosen't seem reliable enough or like it could produce enough energy since we haven't yet mastered creating and artifical "digestor" to produce power as efficiently as the human (or any other organisms for that matter) digestive system.

    Also using steam to kill off competeing plants isn't enviromentally freindly, it is destroying habitats, have the robot pick a place where there is no other plant to plant the tree, not just randomly making its own space by killing other plants which play there own critical role in the ecosystem.

  • quantum says:

    It should include other forms of power like solar, the current method mention dosen't seem reliable enough or like it could produce enough energy since we haven't yet mastered creating and artifical “digestor” to produce power as efficiently as the human (or any other organisms for that matter) digestive system.

    Also using steam to kill off competeing plants isn't enviromentally freindly, it is destroying habitats, have the robot pick a place where there is no other plant to plant the tree, not just randomly making its own space by killing other plants which play there own critical role in the ecosystem.

  • mif991 says:

    Why do we need a robot to plant seeds? Are humans incapable of achieving this at a fraction of what it would cost to build and maintain a robot like this? When has it become so dangerous to plant trees? Call Greenpeace, they'll do it with sponsors from TV.

  • mif991 says:

    Why do we need a robot to plant seeds? Are humans incapable of achieving this at a fraction of what it would cost to build and maintain a robot like this? When has it become so dangerous to plant trees? Call Greenpeace, they'll do it with sponsors from TV.

  • mulsky says:

    Agree with all the anti robot people, it doesent make sense to make robots to do what we can for a fraction of the price, and the more important lesson here is to clean up our own mess not just make a robot to deal with it, thats not a very good example to leave to future generations is it.
    Yeh it is a good idea to think down this road in design but it just doesn't make sense to actually build this.
    Robots are already taking up many of the jobs traditionally done by humans, 45% of the automotive industry is powered by robots and this is increasing. And people cry on about foreign immigrants taking jobs.

    • artur says:

      I would like to make a distinction between having a JOB and having sufficient MEANS of sustenance. One does not need to work physically to sustain oneself, when there is a robot to do it for you. Eventually there will be technologies to replace most of the chores humans perform today. When you can spend the same time learning new things, researching what your heart desires (where you'll be happier and more productive), while the robot puts food on the table, wouldn't you like that??

      Listen to Jacques Fresco, he elaborates more on this point and proposes more solutions.

      also, immigrants are foreign by definition, you don't need to say they're foreign.

  • mulsky says:

    Agree with all the anti robot people, it doesent make sense to make robots to do what we can for a fraction of the price, and the more important lesson here is to clean up our own mess not just make a robot to deal with it, thats not a very good example to leave to future generations is it.
    Yeh it is a good idea to think down this road in design but it just doesn't make sense to actually build this.
    Robots are already taking up many of the jobs traditionally done by humans, 45% of the automotive industry is powered by robots and this is increasing. And people cry on about foreign immigrants taking jobs.

    • artur says:

      I would like to make a distinction between having a JOB and having sufficient MEANS of sustenance. One does not need to work physically to sustain oneself, when there is a robot to do it for you. Eventually there will be technologies to replace most of the chores humans perform today. When you can spend the same time learning new things, researching what your heart desires (where you'll be happier and more productive), while the robot puts food on the table, wouldn't you like that??

      Listen to Jacques Fresco, he elaborates more on this point and proposes more solutions.

      also, immigrants are foreign by definition, you don't need to say they're foreign.

  • @mulsky, I think robots won't ever take our place.. they are designed just to help us! By the way, my friends at PAL Robotics are calling for entries to their recently announced contest for design of outer cover of their upcoming robots. More information is available at www(dot)lifeintheroboticslab(dot)com(slash)contests.

  • @mulsky, I think robots won't ever take our place.. they are designed just to help us! By the way, my friends at PAL Robotics are calling for entries to their recently announced contest for design of outer cover of their upcoming robots. More information is available at www(dot)lifeintheroboticslab(dot)com(slash)contests.

  • Robert Doornick says:

    I would like the designer of this Robot to contact me please
    Robert Doornick
    International Robotics Inc
    1-914 630-1060

  • Robert Doornick says:

    I would like the designer of this Robot to contact me please
    Robert Doornick
    International Robotics Inc
    1-914 630-1060

  • Marek says:

    Yes its good idea, but seedlings need water after planting for several weeks!!!!

  • Marek says:

    Yes its good idea, but seedlings need water after planting for several weeks!!!!

  • Marek says:

    Yes its nice idea but seedlings need watter for several weeks. That is another problem that could be resolved.

  • Marek says:

    Yes its nice idea but seedlings need watter for several weeks. That is another problem that could be resolved.

  • Mcrow says:

    come to think of it, the robot's body can be for numerous applications!

  • Mcrow says:

    come to think of it, the robot's body can be for numerous applications!

  • Juha says:

    This is nice machine – and I suppose first models coming soon to test use in nordic countries because salaries are
    higher here than robots price per new tree (when robots price goes down first nearfuture etc.) – nice design too : )

  • Juha says:

    This is nice machine – and I suppose first models coming soon to test use in nordic countries because salaries are
    higher here than robots price per new tree (when robots price goes down first nearfuture etc.) – nice design too : )

  • ROenn says:

    I think the hardest part for this sort of robot is the autonomous part of the robot. You talk about a "Virtual Forest", but that would require every little stone to be programmed in. You'll have to combine some sort of scanner mechanism, which also have to reginise where there is already trees so it doesn't plant there. All in all this would require some serious scanner instruments and hardware to process all this. I myself have worked on several robots, and you often get suprised when you find out how much space some of these parts take when you add it up.

    I like the biodegradable shells for the plants though. Just have to take into account that the plants need fresh water, nutrition and CO2 😉

  • ROenn says:

    I think the hardest part for this sort of robot is the autonomous part of the robot. You talk about a “Virtual Forest”, but that would require every little stone to be programmed in. You'll have to combine some sort of scanner mechanism, which also have to reginise where there is already trees so it doesn't plant there. All in all this would require some serious scanner instruments and hardware to process all this. I myself have worked on several robots, and you often get suprised when you find out how much space some of these parts take when you add it up.

    I like the biodegradable shells for the plants though. Just have to take into account that the plants need fresh water, nutrition and CO2 😉

  • BlueWolf says:

    Awesome! i heart it!

  • BlueWolf says:

    Awesome! i heart it!

  • Dan says:

    That really looks like an idea copied from the Plustech Walker (made by John Deere) from the '90s http://tech.commongate.com/post/John_Deere_s_Gian

  • Dan says:

    That really looks like an idea copied from the Plustech Walker (made by John Deere) from the '90s http://tech.commongate.com/post/John_Deere_s_Gian

  • Cam says:

    This is a novel idea, and not much more.

    There is no substitute for a human when it comes to planting trees. No two clear-cuts are the same, and very very few are negotiable by a machine that isn't designed either to destroy a forest, or drive over the remains of one. Clear-cuts can often have large sections covered in debris (called slash) up to 3 feet deep, or are comprised almost entirely of sheet-rock only covered by an inch or so of soil. Often, cutblocks are located on mountainsides or steep hills, interspersed with entire fallen trees that a 6-foot person has trouble maneuvering around. No machine without treads and a bunch of weight and power behind them can navigate this terrain. Look up the equipment CANFOR uses to log up in Northern BC and Alberta. Those are machines designed for the terrain. And they are still operated by humans, because conditions are too unique for a program to deal with.

    Over the years, the Canadian government has tried all sorts of inventions to make the reforestation process more streamlined and inexpensive, including dropping the seedlings from aircraft… nothing was more efficient than humans. That is to say, more trees survive when planted by people than by any other method. And we are by far the cheapest way to get the job done.

    Speaking, as mentioned, from a Canadian perspective, I don't think we'll see these things north of the 49th. Our forestry industry, especially in BC, is in real trouble right now. Mills and planting companies are going under, and the government can't do much about it. In short, neither logging companies, nor the government are going to start spending money on a robot that is unable to compete with a human, especially when they can't even afford to support manned crews.

    I realize other countries out there have tree planting, but based as my experience as a planter in Canada, there really isn't a future, financially or logistically, for robots like this.

  • Cam says:

    This is a novel idea, and not much more.

    There is no substitute for a human when it comes to planting trees. No two clear-cuts are the same, and very very few are negotiable by a machine that isn't designed either to destroy a forest, or drive over the remains of one. Clear-cuts can often have large sections covered in debris (called slash) up to 3 feet deep, or are comprised almost entirely of sheet-rock only covered by an inch or so of soil. Often, cutblocks are located on mountainsides or steep hills, interspersed with entire fallen trees that a 6-foot person has trouble maneuvering around. No machine without treads and a bunch of weight and power behind them can navigate this terrain. Look up the equipment CANFOR uses to log up in Northern BC and Alberta. Those are machines designed for the terrain. And they are still operated by humans, because conditions are too unique for a program to deal with.

    Over the years, the Canadian government has tried all sorts of inventions to make the reforestation process more streamlined and inexpensive, including dropping the seedlings from aircraft… nothing was more efficient than humans. That is to say, more trees survive when planted by people than by any other method. And we are by far the cheapest way to get the job done.

    Speaking, as mentioned, from a Canadian perspective, I don't think we'll see these things north of the 49th. Our forestry industry, especially in BC, is in real trouble right now. Mills and planting companies are going under, and the government can't do much about it. In short, neither logging companies, nor the government are going to start spending money on a robot that is unable to compete with a human, especially when they can't even afford to support manned crews.

    I realize other countries out there have tree planting, but based as my experience as a planter in Canada, there really isn't a future, financially or logistically, for robots like this.

  • agreed says:

    well said cam

  • human treeplanter says:

    I could have 2000 trees in the ground before you ever got the chance to pull this thing off the trailer, and get it programmed. Not to mention the time wasted when it tumbles down the 65% slope into a fish bearing stream, puking battery acid the whole time. Also the reality of it is that for the average human tree planter to plant 200 000 trees the cost may come out at $20 000 or less, what do the schematics for this cost?

  • B devine says:

    you are an idiot. research before you make such stupid comments.

  • B devine says:

    its called rain. research treeplanting in northern BC.

Comments are closed.