BENGALURU: Two professors from IISc’s department of aerospace engineering are on a mission - to plant a forest using drones in Gauribidanur, in the Kolar district, along the banks of the Pinakini river.
As a trial run, the professors - KJP Reddy and SN Omkar along with a team of students, used UAV’s (unmanned aeriel vehicles), to drop 50,000 seeds in the area close to World Environment Day. Now, using aerial imaging and science, these professors plan on dropping another 50,000 seeds in October, and want to continue doing this in the years to come.
‘Everyone is on our side’
One of the professors, KPJ Reddy, says that this project is very close to his heart, as he grew up in the area. From a family of farmers, Reddy, who grew up running around the trees and playing in the river at Gauribidanur, says that the situation has changed drastically there. “A few years back, the Pinakini river would have water for a few months every year after the monsoon, but now it has completely dried up. I’ve seen the trees here being cut down, the river go dry, the birds disappear, and I’ve cried seeing the condition it is in now,” says Reddy, who adds that the initiative was a team effort.
With the help of the government, Reddy is involved in the building of a massive science centre near Gauribidanur, on a 206-acre plot. While discussing this project, Reddy suggested that they also do something to improve the environment conditions of the area. “This whole experiment happened by accident. When I met the local MLA to discuss building the science centre, that’s how the conversation shifted to doing something for this area that will help bring it back to what I remember it being when I was a child.” says Reddy.
Getting permission wasn’t an issue because everyone, from the localites to the forest department, have been on their side, says Reddy. “The forest department officials are very excited to work with us, and cleared up the Eucalyptus trees, which consume a lot of water, so that we could go ahead with our project. They also provided us with the seeds and brought in help from the localites as well,” he says.
The team has dropped close to 12 varieties of seeds, which includes Neem, Tamarind, Jamun, Pongamia and more, as these are local species, and will also attract birds, butterflies and monkeys - which will help in future seed dispersal.
Drop seeds, not bombs
While seed bombs aren’t unheard of in this day and age, dropping seeds from drones is certainly new. Professor Reddy says that he was quite shocked to learn that this wasn’t already happening. “I thought someone would have tried this already because it is simple and logical. For me, as a scientist, it seems like the most obvious thing to do,” he says.
Professor Omkar, says that manual seed bombing is not as effective, as quantitative research isn’t done or easy with that method. “One effective outcome of dropping seeds via UAV’s is that it captures videos. This way, we can monitor the progress every few months. We can also monitor what kind of species are suited to certain areas by showing these aerial images to experts and getting their opinion,” says Omkar.
They used four different types of drones, which have been made by students, for this, based on the weight each can carry. These drones carry seeds that are just about to germinate, right before they are about to sprout. Reddy says that this increases the probability of the seeds growing into saplings, rather than just dropping seed bombs.
Gautham Anand, a research assistant at IISc working under professor Omkar, was also involved in the project. He says, “Drones are being used by the military and defense, but that’s not all they can do. UAVs can be used to tackle neglected areas like this, as they can bring about long-term solutions. Sometimes, the government needs to have people bringing them solutions to problems, just like what we have done.”