Building communities and creating technologies to help save the planet
Andreu Ibanez, GDG Lleida lead and GDG Spain co-organizer
@andreuibanez on twitter , @andreu on Instagram
Attribution: Andreu Ibanez
Global warming is a reality. Average global temperature is higher each year and we’re experiencing extreme weather events, especially during summer months. . Among the different origins of this situation, the clearest one is the excessive CO2 production. We’re continuously launching carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while performing our day-to-day activities, driving cars, air traveling, and so on. In addition to that, we can observe frequent and devastating wildfires and desertification. The number of trees is declining which interferes with the process of that marvelous interchange we’ve been having for millions of years: the trees get the CO2 from the atmosphere, keep the C (Carbon) for the soil, and expel the O2, to fill up our oxygen needs.
Planting trees is one of the simplest and most natural solutions to help our planet to survive. We can do this by hand, but it would not be efficient. In estimation one person can plant 8 trees during an hour, and that is once you’re actually prepared and start doing the digging, planting the tree, and adding some water and maybe some natural fertilizer. Luckily, we can use drones to do it! With the help of technology, we can let out half a million seeds every hour, with an overall high survival rate depending on many factors.
It was 8 years ago when my old friend, CS engineer and Drone activist Lot Amorós from Elx, Spain, came up with the idea of creating a drone that will help with planting trees. The project was named Dronecoria. Back then the drones were not a commercial mainstream thing yet, so we needed to build them by ourselves. Our work was based on open-source materials. We started using existing platforms like Arducopter for the electronics board, then we created different models and technologies. As we strongly believe in collaborations, we were sharing knowledge with others like us in the drone community from the very beginning. Now we can also share our contributions with ecology enthusiasts.
Since we started, many things have been developed and the word about our initiative has been spread, not as much as we want, but being an NPO it’s always difficult to get funding. Luckily thanks to our hard work with the Dronecoria team led by Lot Amorós, the project won some global- and national-level prizes, getting the recognition and resources to continue the trip. Among the supporters are Ikea’s Foundation What Design Can Do, or Telefónica with an International award Art and Artificial Life.
We have ideated and released as open-source 5 different machines, ranging from the magnificent Dronecoria drone, now in the seventh release, to the seed sowers, the seed coating machines, the seed computer, and the seed bank.
The star of the project is the Dronecoria drone, created with the help of Architect Salva Serrano. The machine evolved in a continuous interaction from model 1 to model 7, the current one. Being made of plywood and built with simple ties and glue, you may think at first that this is a mockup, this is not gonna fly, but no, the drone flies and does its job perfectly, as you can see in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1d_JCpPXps
The drone weighs a total of 25 kilograms, just below law permissions, and has a capacity of carrying 10 kg of seeds.
Andreu and Lot showing up the Dronecoria structure with the helix, a total of 2 meters
Another key element of the drone is the Seed Sower, a mechanism designed to be able to disperse seeds from a moving vehicle (drone, car, bicycle…). It consists of two separate mechanisms. The Seed Shutter is connected to the deposit that stores the seeds and allows control of the flow rate by opening or closing the diaphragm. It drops the seeds to the Seed Disperser, which rotates to spread the seeds in order to maximize the coverage of several meters around the drone.
Here you can listen to Architect Sergio Serrano, creator of the engine talk about his design here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0o1H7iksJw
You can also download, all the DIY models of our technologies from our website and try to create a drone like this at home : https://dronecoria.org/en/open-technologies/
Also, what’s just as important as the machines, is the seed itself. We’ve experimented with different seeds and planting techniques that would allow them to grow easily into a full tree once launched by the drone.
We mostly used the techniques of coating and pelleting. To coat the seeds means to cover it with various materials to introduce nutrients, repellents, mycorroid bacteria/fungus, water retainers, etc. It is necessary for any sowing on the surface, otherwise, the establishment rates might be too low.
Being a tech professional and not an expert on forestry, I approached the project as a developer and evangelist. For this I’ve been delivering speeches spreading the word about Dronecoria in 5 countries, I’ve done dozens of talks and workshops. And of course, being an expert in Google Technologies, I do apply those to the project.
In my role as Director of the IT Laboratories of the Scientific Park of Lleida, I mentor more than a hundred students every year during their enterprise practices, end-of-degree projects, or PhDs. For the past 11 years, I’ve also been an admin and mentor in the Google Summer of Code, at the Liquid Galaxy project.
Attribution: Andreu Ibanez
The Liquid Galaxy is a cluster of computers and screens running Linux and Google Earth on top. With this technology, originally created by Google in 2008 and released as open-source in 2010, we create visualizations of different data and applications.
Attribution: Andreu Ibanez
Dozens of our students have been using the Liquid Galaxy to develop different applications for the Dronecoria project, using other Google technologies as backend for the data preparation to be visualized.
The most important projects developed by students are:
RAS, Reforestation Assistant and Simulator
Developed in Android and Flutter, the RAS app (soon available on the Play Store) allows the Dronecoria teams in charge of reforestations to fully plan their actions.
You can take a look at this video of then student, and now mentor and Women Techmaker Ambassador, Karine Pistili from Brazil, explaining her project:
Forest Analysis and Visualization
Project developed by student Marcel Porta. He used an implementation of R-CNN (Convolutional Neural Networks) for Tensorflow called DeepLab to create an ML model of the fire-damaged areas using satellite or aerial drone photographs. While testing the model we use 5 thousand images of wildfires. We also tested it when a damaging fire happened in our area, the Ribera del Ebre June in 2019. The application can mark drone paths that will be covered to reforest the area, and visualize this on the Liquid Galaxy cluster with Google Earth.
You can see his GSoC final presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNzLgGYyfnY
You can also check out a 3D simulation of the drone spreading the seeds done by student Roger Simó: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDqpbb2pqMw
And we’re not stopping here. As of 2022, Indian student Syed Ali is developing version two of RAS, improving and adding new functionalities. He’s working under the guidance and mentoring of Dronecoria founder, Lot Amorós.
Social Impact Fund
At the beginning of 2022 our beloved DevRel team from Google Developers Europe asked all the local groups to present projects that can have a social impact, offering some funding. We decided to apply. Our idea was to use the funds to spread the word about Dronecoria, presenting our project and conducting workshops at high schools.
See a video of Cristina Luna’s WTM Lleida lead, presenting the “Dronecoria Social Impact Road Trip” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7id1Yp-dST8
Each event is a one-hour presentation delivered by Andreu and Lot. During that time we explain the problem, present our solution, and introduce the technology behind it. After that we organize a two-hour workshop and teach our audience how to build a Dronecoria drone. Depending on the high school students availability, groups of a dozen students build 2 to 6 drones simultaneously. It’s a team effort to understand the design and build a model for a temporary show-off. The students are provided some tools such as cutters and ties, all the pieces of the Dronecoria drones, and a manual:
Next to the area of work we organize an exhibition showing different kinds of seeders and other machines we have created, and an example of v6 and v7 Dronecoria drones for the students building their own machines to take a look at when in trouble.
To wrap things up, here are some numbers from our Road Trip:
- 8 events organized, most of them in high schools:
- INS Torre Vicens, Lleida
- INS Alcarrás, Lleida
- Wallapop at Barcelona
- Escola Vedruna Balaguer, Lleida
- INS Puig de la Creu, Castellar del Vallés, Barcelona
- IES Alcántara, Alcantarilla, Murcia
- Scientific Park of Lleida, Mobile Week 2022
- Lleida-Alguaire Airport, Lleida Air Challenge event
- A total of around 600 attendees, including students, teachers, and other people interested in our project
- Kilometers traveled: 3.000
- Dronecoria drones built: 20
- Hours to build them: 20
- Laser cutting hours: 150+
- Wood used: 100 sheets of 60 by 40 cm, 5 mm plywood
- 3D printing hours: 200+
- PLA+ rolls: 8
Here’s a photo gallery from the events we organized so far:
We spent a few intense months developing the project, attending the events, and creating the materials needed, but the experience turned out to be extremely rewarding. When a team of students gathers around a table and they start to build the drone, you understand that the important message of saving the planet with technology will stay with them forever and hopefully in the future they will take action.
The project got really great media coverage towards the end of the road trip, and we reached in the range of the hundreds of thousands of people appearing on TV, Radio, Press, and the web.
In my own name, and the GDG Lleida and Dronecoria communities, I would like to thank Google Developers Europe for their help in achieving our goals and spreading the word about our reforestation project. As several groups showed interest in joining our efforts during the events, we hope our activity has planted some seeds in young and not-so-young minds.
The world is changing and we have to act.