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109 of the 12 winners of the World Economic Forum’s Blue Carbon challenge for its accomplishments in aquatic sustainability. “We’ve aimed to develop environmental solutions that are as low in cost and as simple as possible, or use 3D printing with CAD files we can export for others to use. Doing so means the way we use our UAVs, planting rigging, and other technologies will be repeatable and accessible, not just for projects in countries like the Emirates but in developing regions of the world that need access to effective mass reforestation tools,” Glavan explains. “We first started developing our technologies for terrestrial planting, our aim being to help rehabilitate grasses, shrubs and trees in areas that were over-grazed or otherwise degraded. We were then approached by French energy company Engie to see if we could provide a low-cost aerial replanting solution for mangroves. We investigated some other drone tree planting companies but were unable to find any that would fit our requirements.” Seed distribution Understanding an area’s ecology is the most critical factor in the fight against ecosystem destruction and desertification. Once this is accounted for, UAVs can be trusted to drop seeds at a rate and spread that is near-impossible with traditional manual labour, and do so in a way that ensures each unique forest biome is sustained in an organic way. There are many stages to doing so, the first being having the necessary technology. To that end, Distant Imagery currently uses three key pieces of kit. The first is the mangrove seed-dropping payload, a modular unit that uses various electromechanical devices to handle and launch seed balls or germinated seeds. Once dropped, they embed themselves in the soil and begin to grow. Three seed-dropping payloads have been configured so far. One is designed to launch germinated mangrove seeds in a widespread pattern, one loosely ‘drops’ a seed ball or seed, and one precisely ‘fires’ a seed ball downwards. Each one consists broadly of a storage tank for the seeds (its three main pieces and its mounting apparatus are largely additively printed) with a release chamber that uses servo-actuated doors and an electric motorised agitator tool to stir and deploy the seeds through the release orifice when open. Minor sizing and internal spacing differences between payloads enable the use of larger seed balls or smaller seeds, but all the payloads look outwardly identical. They have been designed to distribute seeds without jamming, snapping or causing damage to the seeds. “Pneumatic seed launchers are often used, but one of our goals is repeatability, and accessing the Distant Imagery | In operation Unmanned Systems Technology | April/May 2022 Distant Imagery is using specially adapted UAVs to drop mangrove seed balls to restore a lagoon in Abu Dhabi (Images courtesy of Distant Imagery)