Forest saplings of the future will be grown by robots.
Very specific conditions are needed for a tiny seed to grow into a mighty tree, and it seems the first stage of the job from seed to sampling can best be carried out by a machine.
An industrial partner is now being sought to help commercialise a growth chamber for forest plants.
It provides a sustainable, controlled environment, where the tender shoots can thrive under the watchful “eyes” of a robotic nursery assistant.
The EU-funded Zephyr project has developed the propagation unit where plantlets can thrive.
Its key components include a rotating set of trays under an array of LED lamps, a robotic arm equipped with a camera, and wireless microsensors that keep tabs on the plants.
In contrast to other growth chambers used to produce tree plantlets, Zephyr’s prototype uses neither pesticides and nor fertilisers, and it requires far less water, soil, energy, and space.
Moisture is recycled.
Plants are grown in individual pots containing the optimal amount of substrate.
Instead of the 10 overhead lamps required by comparable systems, it relies on a mere three, which are powered by solar panels.
Conditions in the chamber can be monitored remotely by a combination of wireless microsensors and camera inspection.
One of the Zephyr growth chamber’s particular strengths is that it provides uniform conditions of light, moisture and warmth for each plantlet.
The system thus produces plantlets of consistent quality, with the strong roots they will need to survive in the wild.
And it can produce them just at the right time, at the very beginning of the planting season.
Having the plantlets ready on time allows a new plantation get established before the days get short and cold.
A commercial version could be available by late 2016.
The new state-of-the-art forest nursery production for reforestation purposes is more resource-efficient, and will contribute to environmental protection through water recycling, reduction of fertiliser use, and avoidance of pesticides.
It will therefore fit perfectly into certified and standardised forestry systems.
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