Category: Making

Earth Day Project 2021: An Autonomous Seed Planting Drone for Environmental Restoration

Back in 2014 I had just graduated from my environmental science degree and was eager to start a career in the environmental sector. I had more ideas than time back then, which is obvious from the notes that I was keeping. Fast forward to 2020, I had just completed my masters in sustainability studies, am looking for work, and there is a province wide lockdown. Despite languishing for most of the year, I figured with the time that the lockdown afforded me, I could try to create something epic. I dusted off my old notebooks, and decided this project was worth my time.

It has become increasingly clear that conservation is no longer enough when it comes to our current biodiversity crisis. We need active environmental restoration to solve the problems we are facing as a society. I wanted to create a tool that could scale to produce results for huge environmental restoration projects and be accessible for people and organizations for a reasonable cost.

For the past 4 months I’ve put in hundreds of hours to produce the Aspen. Its a fully autonomous drone capable of quickly broadcasting seed across large areas. The broadcasting wheel is interchangeable allowing users to spread up to 2.5kg of various seed types including treated tree seed, tallgrass, wildflower, clover and anything else you can imagine! (Edit: The Hopper in the video is a small one for testing) The drone is controlled by a base station that uploads a flight plan to the drone. Once the drone is ready, it takes off and completes the flight plan fully autonomously, spreading seed as it goes. The base station is capable of controlling multiple drones simultaneously, opening up possibilities for multiple drones to work in tandem to cover a huge area for restoration projects.

Broadcasting seed is never going to replace planting trees directly, but there are several methods for treating seed to increase their success rate that I have been researching. The University of Alberta has created an interesting seed coating that seems to increase the success rate of tree seeds to as high as 70%. This is definitely something that I would like to experiment with, as it may also assist with even broadcasting of the seed.

There’s still testing to carry out, and some refining to complete the design, but it is a working prototype ready to be put to the test. Please watch the video and let me know what you think! If you or your organization would like to work together to test the drone out on your project or a portion of your project, please let me know and I’m sure we can come up with an arrangement!

Also, if you or your organization are looking for a talented employee capable of making huge projects like this a reality, please reach out and lets have a conversation!

Bonus FAQ: I don’t understand, but several people have all asked “how high does it go?” Lets just say, I’m not going to test it out, but in theory it could ascend at 2m/s for 20 minutes. That works out to about 2.4km in altitude. At that point it would crash to the ground, probably never to be seen again.

Get the Peterborough Natural Heritage T-Shirt!

In a recent blog article I published the Natural Heritage System map of Peterborough in metro map format. Now you can show your natural Peterborough Pride in t-shirt form! Order yours today from Kawartha Local. Makes a perfect gift for your naturalist dad on fathers day. (June 17th, thank me later 🙂 )

Rob, the owner of Kawartha Local was instrumental in pulling this project together. Even if you’re not interested in this t-shirt, check out his shop full of awesome Peterborough swag!

Steward’s Notes is Makin’ (Water) Bacon!

You’ve seen it on the welcome sign.

You’ve seen it debated in city hall.

Now you can see it on your key chain!

Introducing pocket sized water bacon!

Wholly manufactured in my closet under the stairs using the latest cutting edge technology. It is now possible for you to bring home the (Water) Bacon. Visit to order yours today. A big thank you to Kawartha Local for making bacon dreams a reality.

3D Printing Peterborough Watersheds

Within the sphere of 3D printing there are a plethora of examples of how to print topographic maps. Much of this interest comes from the reproduction of topographies from popular video games or modeling significant landscape features such as mountains or canyons. The standard format has been to display these models using arbitrary or aesthetically pleasing boundaries, often a square or a circle (or even puzzle pieces)

One of the primary motivators for my acquisition of a 3D printer was the ability to reproduce landscapes with the natural watershed boundaries that already exist. This turned out to be a much more daunting task than I had initially anticipated, however I think the results were well worth it! Now that I have started to refine my techniques, I hope to be able to reproduce interesting watershed topographies for all of Peterborough and beyond!

The Mississippi River model as seen from the air (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2006)

Watershed models have a long history in the management of water resources. The US Army Corps of Engineers produced a gigantic scale model of the Mississippi basin to assist in flood prediction and management long before computers were able to complete the task. Even today, physical models are able to produce results that computers are unable reliably recreate. Perhaps with the refinement of 3D printing technologies we will once again see the models that assisted our resource planning in the past reemerge as a common element of our watershed planning future.