A view of the Jerusalem forest. A view of the Jerusalem forest. A new tool called the Robin can help care for areas like the Jerusalem forest. (Photo: Mort Barr)

Can this drone swoop in and save the planet?

New high-tech camera assesses natural disasters, helps farmers and protects forests.

Drones can provide beautiful and imaginative new views of places around the world. But did you know that drones are planetary superheroes – helping farmers and environmentalists – as well?

Israeli engineers from Sensilize have developed a device called "Robin" that hangs onto the underbelly of a drone and, via sensors and software, collects an array of on-the-ground data. The stunning imagery and instant feedback can prove critical to farmers hoping to react quicker to problems like insect infestation or to make real-time decisions about crops.

Robin inventor Robi Stark says the initial idea sprung from wanting to help farmers visualize their cropland. “If farmers can catch problems and pests quickly, this means less use of pesticides and a greater yield of crop – which is good for the planet,” he explained.

Robin has been tried at pilot sites around the world, and has been available to consumers since April.

But farmers aren't the only ones who will be using the device. Stark says environmental groups and humanitarian organizations are also interested. "[Robin] could be used to monitor the health of rain forests or when reforestation is taking place and regeneration of vegetation is required, giving information about the condition and health of the vegetation. Robin can also be used for environmental monitoring after mining activities,” Stark said. Another ecological use for the device would be to track illegal logging – a problem in protected forests worldwide.

American environmental news writer and nomad Tafline Laylin has traveled the world. She often writes about environmental criminals and says that enforcement and evidence is a huge issue.

Laylin took a look at the Sensilize technology and likes how it could help the planet. "Drones have evolved over the last few years, and are now being used in the fight against poaching in parts of Africa," she told From The Grapevine. "I see no reason why they [drones] wouldn't be effective in tackling illegal deforestation, particularly reaching otherwise hard-to-reach areas."

All of these potential uses for Robin are certainly coming at a good time – for both farmers and the planet.

A screenshot from a promotional video for the new Robin drone.A screenshot from a promotional video for the new Robin drone. (Photo: YouTube)

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