Planting trees is back-breaking, repetitive work — but if two University of Victoria students have their way, robots will assist tree planters in the future.

Third-year electrical engineering students Nick Birch and Tyler Rhodes have developed a prototype robot that is able to plant tree seedlings.

"We'd really like it as something that can supplement what [tree planters] do and just increase the number of trees that are replanted, especially in light of the forest fires we've seen this summer," Birch told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

The 'TreeRover' is a four-wheeled, battery-powered vehicle about the size of a go-cart. It carries a tree planting mechanism which holds a magazine of ten seedlings. Compressed air is used to drive a hollow spike into the ground, which then releases a seedling.

Then another arm comes and taps the earth to secure the seedling, and the robot uses its electric motors to drive to the next site.

Planting the entire 10-tree magazine takes about 15 minutes, according to Birch.

Magazine

The magazine can hold ten seedlings, which are punched into the ground using compressed air. (Supplied)

Birch and Rhodes developed the robot as part of a self-directed entrepreneurial work term, during which students use their own funds to create a concept and bring it to the prototype stage.

"We've dealt quite closely with some members of the forestry industry here in B.C. They've been impressed, and they see some possible uses for it in the future."

Birch said that they intend to improve upon their prototype, which is currently programmed to run in a straight line.

"We're hoping to add some GPS and obstacle-avoidance systems so it could track a more difficult pattern."

This September, Birch and Rhodes are launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign so they can continue their efforts beyond their co-op term.

Birch and Rhodes will dedicate a tree and send video of the robot planting that tree to those who donate to the fund.


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: UVic students make tree-planting robot