Sensors for forest monitoring is not an innovation. They are already used to track changes in temperature, humidity and light, as well as the movements of animals and insects through their habitat. They also help to detect and monitor forest fires and can provide valuable data on how climate change and other human activities are impacting the natural world. However, placing these sensors can prove difficult in large, tall forests, and climbing trees to place them poses its own risks.
Imperial College researchers have developed drones that can attach sensors to trees to monitor environmental and ecological changes in forests. In fact, they shoot sensor-containing darts onto trees several meters away in cluttered environments like forests. The drones can also place sensors through contact or by perching on tree branches.
The researchers hope the drones will be used in the future to create networks of sensors to boost data on forest ecosystems, and to track hard-to-navigate ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest. The drones are equipped with cameras to help identify suitable targets, and a smart material that changes shape when heated to launch the darts, which then stick to the trees.
The drones are not currently autonomous but controlled by people. Using control units, the researchers watch through the camera lens to select target trees and shoot the darts. The next step is to make the drones autonomous, so that researchers can test how they get by in denser forest environments without human guidance.