Scientists fly drones that shoot sensor-fitted darts at trees to measure climate change

The drones could be used to track hard-to-navigate biomes like rainforests

Scientists from the Imperial College London have developed drones that shoot sensor-containing darts to monitor the environmental impact of climate change on forests.

The technology, which was tested on trees at Imperial’s Silwood Park Campus and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, aims to capture data from hard-to-navigate areas like rainforests.

The drones are designed to shoot darts onto trees several metres away and can reach large and tall forests, which are usually difficult to monitor.

The devices are also equipped with cameras to help identify suitable targets and can also sit on tree branches like birds to collect data themselves, acting as mobile sensors.

Scientists are now planning to make them fully autonomous.

Professor Mirko Kovac, Lead Researcher and Director of the Aerial Robotics Lab, said: “Monitoring forest ecosystems can be difficult, but our drones could deploy whole networks of sensors to boost the amount and precision of environmental and ecological data.

“I like to think of them as artificial forest inhabitants who will soon watch over the ecosystem and provide the data we need to protect the environment.”

Dr Salua Hamaza, Co-Author from the Department of Aeronautics, commented: “We aim to introduce new design and control strategies to allow drones to effectively operate in forested environments. Exploiting smart mechanisms and new sensing techniques we can off-load the onboard computation, and create platforms that are energy-efficient and better performing.”

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