Inventor Creates Drone to Plant Trees
As a teenager, Chrystoff Camacho took a trip to Guyana to visit his family. While there he was struck by how much devastation the logging industry had inflicted on his native land. Land that was once lush and fertile had become hard and barren. When forests are cut down it is not only the loss of trees that is the problem. The whole land suffers as living trees allow the ground to maintain and circulate water. When mass amounts of trees are leveled the surrounding grounds become dry and brittle, like a desert.
As Chrystoff entered his college years the impact of that trip home stayed with him. As a student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark Chrystoff began gathering the know how to create a solution to the growing rate of deforestation around the world. For Chrystoff that solution came by in the invention of a tree planting drone. Chrystoff said, “My first idea was about developing some way to make the land in need of rehabilitation more productive. Land stripped of trees becomes dry and flat and can’t hold water, so I was thinking about making conical imprints that would create mini-basins for trees or crops that would be planted by hand. But that got me thinking about ways to do this by air, using velocity to make the imprint, because doing it by hand is so time-consuming. And then I had the idea of including the seeds and soil.” His idea wasn’t entirely new. The process of creating conical impressions in barren land to improve hydration is already being applied. Also, there are currently drones being used to plant trees, but Chrystoff saw a problem with these systems that he could fix.
The problem was that making irrigation impressions by hand is far too time consuming and the drones that are being used to plant seeds are not accurately getting the seeds into the ground. Chrystoff used a 3D printer to build the biodegradable capsule that would house everything needed to grow a tree besides time and water. The conical capsule holds the soil, a fertilized seed, and nutrients for ideal growth. When launched the tip of the capsule successfully implants itself into the ground leaving the perfect impression for roots to develop. Once watered the capsule starts to break down and a tree will grow in it’s place. The capsules could be dropped from a plane, but Chrystoff realized that would greatly increase the cost of his program. When these capsules are loaded onto a drone Chrystoff found that he could plant 150 seeds over an acre of land in 12 minutes for only $35. For reforestation to be successful the methods have to be time, eco, and cost efficient- something easily achieved with the use of a drone. He said,” I believe it will allow for mass reforestation at a very cost-effective alternative to what’s out there right now.”
But building a drone that can plant a forest in minutes was not enough for Chrystoff. With the funding he received to build his drone platform he went on to start ParaTrees based out of NJIT’s VentureLink Incubator. ParaTrees is a firm with the goal of helping the world manage forests smartly. Along with Alec Ratyosyan who has a master’s degree in Global Agricultural and Sustainability, they set out to use drones to help forest managers better care for their lands. Alec said, “We offer services that assess forest conditions, identify threats, and recommend remediation.” With the use of drones they are able to provide these services to land owners quickly and inexpensively.
All the hard work that Chrystoff has put in paid off when he received the award of a lifetime this past November, the Thomas Alva Edison Patent Awards at The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ. Set up by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, this award “recognizes creativity of a patented device or process that has the potential of significantly enhancing some aspect of mechanical engineering.” Chrystoff said it was a huge honor just to be in the same room as so many accomplished inventors. In his acceptance speech Chrystoff was sure to give thanks to his mentors from NJIT. He said, “As a student at NJIT and young entrepreneur, I worked closely with university professors and advisers to push the envelope surrounding the startup community on campus. NJIT has always been a catalyst for innovation, and it’s amazing to see the support that is being focused on student entrepreneurship with funding and training opportunities through campus programs like the Undergraduate Research and Innovation program, I-Corps and VentureLink, NJIT’s business incubator.” With the support of NJIT and the recognition this award has brought him, Chrystoff hopes that his drones will soon be assessing and replanting forests all over the world.