Two University of Victoria students have invented a tree-planting robot they hope will help restore B.C. forests following this season’s wildfires.
Nick Birch, 29, and Tyler Rhodes, 22, spent the past several months designing the TreeRover.
“There is going to be a big replenishing effort at some stage down the road and it would be neat if the TreeRover could be scaled up then,” said Birch.
Birch and Rhodes, both third-year electrical engineering students, designed the TreeRover as part of an unpaid, self-directed entrepreneurial co-op project.
“It’s four-wheeled, electric-powered and about the size of a go-cart. It’s battery operated and there’s a planting mechanism that sits atop the wheeled platform,” Birch said.
The TreeRover uses compressed air in a pneumatic system to plant the seedlings.
In its current form, it can hold 10 seedlings at a time.
“It uses a hollow spike that punches into the earth and the nose of the spike opens a cavity in the earth that allows the seedling to drop down.
“A secondary piston packs in the dirt around the seedling,” Birch said.
Although it’s a “very early prototype,” Birch said it works well.
The pair have practised on a patch of land at the Cowichan Lake Research Station, using seedlings donated by Western Forest Products.
In the spring, they’re to plant a test-batch at one of the University of British Columbia’s research forests.
“We’re heading over … to meet the research manager and we’re hoping to secure a more permanent site for a trial in the spring planting season,” Birch said.
Birch and Rhodes plan to raise funds using the Indiegogo website, in hopes of scaling up the project. Donors can have a tree planted in their name.
“Ideally, we’d like to have something down the road that’s the size of a small vehicle,” Birch said.
A future prototype would also be GPS-directed.
Birch said he is not aware of any other robot tree planters, although there are some human-operated mechanized versions.
He said they’re similar to an excavator or bulldozer, with an attachment for planting.
“Our idea was to have something with a bit more autonomy,” Birch said.
Birch said his shared interests with Rhodes propelled the project.
“We both grew up on Vancouver Island and share a love of the outdoors, as well as electronics. It seemed like a neat thing to bring those two interests together,” Birch said.