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DroneSeed aims to land in billion-dollar marketplace

Beaverton company outfitting drones to replant and manage forests and natural areas


COURTESY DRONESEED - Grant Canary and his partners at DroneSeed are outfitting drones to replant, treat and survey huge areas following timber harvests, wildfires and environmental degradation.Grant Canary says that we’re 100 years behind the times in planting forests.

But Canary’s Beaverton-based company, DroneSeed, is flying to the rescue.

Using a small air force of teched-out drones, Canary said his startup will be able to reforest steep slopes of newly logged commercial forests, replant charred landscapes as soon as the smoke clears from catastrophic fires, and restore sensitive natural habitats for fish and wildlife. And his drones can do the work years faster — and for millions of dollars less — than the armies of shovel-wielding humans who do this kind of labor today.

“It’s really expensive and dangerous in some cases to send people out there with shovels,” Canary said. “We are much more efficient, orders of magnitudes more efficient.”

COURTESY DRONESEED - Drones combined with sophisticated software can be programmed to precisely spread tree seeds or herbicides used in reforestation projects.DroneSeed’s programmable drones can be armed to rapid-fire nutrient-loaded seed capsules into exactly targeted locations where they will sprout into future forests. Or the drones can squirt herbicides so precisely that it will kill individual invasive plants and give native trees a leg up. The same drones can fly into a mature forest and give an accurate account of how much timber is ready for harvest.

“That’s kind of our M.O., is precision forestry,” the 33-year-old chief executive officer and co-founder said.

A single operator can run 15 drones across the steepest or boggiest terrains in the world, reloading each incoming drone with new seed packs or herbicide munitions and swapping in freshly charged batteries while the rest of the units are off targeting the pre-mapped landscapes while simultaneously collecting data.

Canary said leading forest-product companies have armed themselves with the latest devices to harvest and process wood, but replanting trees remains mired in a bygone era that industrial-scale food farming has already escaped, thanks in part to its gentler landscapes.

The financial stakes are enormous.

Reforesting after harvests costs $452 million annually in the Pacific Northwest alone and is a whopping $14 billion market in the world’s five biggest forest product-producing nations — U.S., Canada, China, Russia and Brazil — according to Canary.

That figure doesn’t even dip into the similarly massive potential for restoration work following catastrophic wildfires or reclamation of the world’s degraded habitats, two more primary markets that the fledgling DroneSeed has identified.

DroneSeed expects to prove its mettle through four pilot projects now in their early stages. On two of those, DroneSeed will work with forest products companies, one in the U.S. and the other in Canada, while another is sited a tribal reservation where wildfire has damaged the land.

Canary didn’t want to identify most early partners, but the fourth trial is with Clean Water Services, the Washington County public agency in charge of water quality in the Tualatin River drainage. CWS is mandated with keeping the county’s only river and tributary streams running cooler and cleaner, tasks that native trees perform well where they are allowed to thrive.

DroneSeed last month planted a riverbank area at CWS’s Tualatin River Farm south of Hillsboro, where the company and agency are testing the potential use of drone technology to restore stream-side and wetland habitats in hard-to-reach areas across the basin.

Later, they may also test the drones’ ability to identify and accurately target spraying of invasive plants, such as the Himalayan blackberries choking out native plants along many Oregon waterways.

“I think (drone technology) has this kind of potential,” said Bruce Roll, the agency’s director of watershed management. “I think it looks real promising.”

Roll said that if DroneSeed proves itself, the company could become a key player in the Tree for All program, through which CWS and other partners are planting millions of trees and restoring environments across the county.

Canary is a 2001 graduate of Lake Oswego High School who long has been drawn to the intersection of entrepreneurialism, technology and the environment.

He worked for a handful of green-energy companies before starting BioSystems Co., which used food wastes to grow insects that were then turned into high-protein food fed to farmed fish. The idea was to reduce the use of fishmeal sourced from catching forage fish, a practice that has been banned in some areas due to its severe impact on ocean food webs.

Canary and partner Ryan Mykita sold BioSystems to a larger company in 2012, and a couple years later, set off on their own to start another company.

“We were looking to make a dent in carbon footprints,” said Canary.

After some false starts, they eventually focused on the notion that trees are the best way to remove carbon from the atmosphere but that the practice of planting them “just seems so archaic.”

The reason, of course, often boils down to the difficulty of replanting inhospitable terrains where tractors dare not tread. So, they landed on the emerging use of drones.

“Drones have no issues with slopes because they fly,” he said.

Canary and Mykita (he focuses on sales and business development) co-founded DroneSeed in 2015 with product engineer Logan Ullyott. Other people do part-time work for the 10-month-old company, which currently is advertising for a drone pilot. DroneSeed also has hired Portland-based Skyward to help with its drone-related software applications.

For a company not yet a year old, DroneSeed is creating plenty of buzz — and not just from the rotors of its copter drones.

Late last year, it was among the first five companies to win the first Beaverton $100K Startup Challenge, a competition sponsored by the city of Beaverton and Westside Startup Fund that includes a year of free office space at Oregon Technology Business Center in Beaverton.

“They’re basically the first people to bet on us,” Canary said.

More have followed.

Recently, DroneSeed was accepted into the prestigious Techstars Seattle startup accelerator, giving it a second office in the Puget Sound area and more help developing customers and attracting investors.

The company also has been among the trendiest newcomers on the AngelList website for investors and job seekers, Canary said.

COURTESY DRONESEED - CEO Grant Canary (center) co-founded DroneSeed with Ryan Mykita and Logan Ullyott last year and have an office at Beaverton's Oregon Technology Business Center.


By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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