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Special drones can land in trees

Researchers in Zurich have developed a special drone that can land in trees. The drone’s underside collects environmental DNA for the determination of biodiversity. It is now being trained for a challenging competition in the rainforests of Singapore.

ETH Researchers have developed a special drone that can land in trees.
ETH Researchers have developed a special drone that can land in trees. Image credit: ETH

Scientists have developed a special drone that can autonomously collect samples from tree branches. According to a press release, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Birmensdorf in the canton of Zurich were involved in addition to the French-Canadian company Spygen, which has headquarters in Le Bourget du Lac Cedex in France and Montreal in Canada’s province of Quebec.

The samples collected contain environmental DNA. From this, laboratory tests can then determine the species in a particular area. This helps ecologists to gain more knowledge about the biodiversity of regions that would otherwise be difficult to access. According to the information provided, a special challenge for the robotics specialists with regard to this was to program the drone so that it could land on branches with different flexibilities and remain there for a certain amount of time.

The new drone is being trained in the Masoala rainforest at Zoo Zurich. Stefano Mintchev, co-author of the study recently published in the specialist journal Science Robotics, explains: “Here we have the advantage of knowing which species are present, which will help us to better assess how thorough we are in capturing all eDNA traces with this technique or if we’re missing something.”

Now, the drone will be prepared and improved further for a competition in a rainforest region spanning 100 hectares in Singapore. It will need to be able to fly to and collect samples from ten times as many trees as it currently can in three days, but for the competition only one day will be allowed. mm

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