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    Reclaiming the Desert with an Intelligent Green Thumb


Trees are known as the lungs of the Earth. But in addition to converting CO2 into oxygen, they can do much more. For instance, they are critical in mitigating the damage of sandstorm in deserts, and reserving water in soil. Trees are a crucial link in nature's ecological chain. However, the worsening environmental conditions are becoming a threat to people's livelihood and economies. Critical issues include desertification and excessive carbon emission, the latter leading to a rising sea level and greenhouse effect.

Restoring desert is an important method to help cope with these issues. When coming to desert reclamation, planting trees by using robot clusters is an innovative, effective practice.

Planting trees in the desert, however, faces several hurdles. First, the time frame is narrow. In deserted areas, only the short span of spring is suitable for growing trees. Second, the efficiency of manual planting is low. Take pit digging as an example. This seemingly simple step takes about 25 minutes for one person to complete. Third, even machine-aided planting requires manual supervision. Previously, there was no solution for around-the-clock, fully unattended operation. Machines weren't able to automatically plan the route or intelligently bypass obstacles.


Teachers and students from East China Normal University (ECNU) have developed a desert governance robot based on Huawei's Atlas 200 DK AI developer kit. The robot is capable of visual analysis and can automatically determine the vegetation and obstacles to be avoided in the desert to complete operations such as pit digging, planting, and watering. This solution makes massive tree planting really unattended and around-the-clock. The solution plants trees faster and achieves a higher survival rate for the trees, helping reclaim desert at greater efficiency.

Huawei Atlas 200 DK is an integrated kit for AI developers. It supports 16 TOPS INT8 and provides hardware interfaces such as the USB port. It also integrates a graphical software development environment, helping developers quickly develop AI applications.


Zhang Xinyu, associate professor of ECNU and head of the Desert Governance Robot Project, said: "Large-scale tree planting with robot clusters is a future trend. This solution can help us make strides in ecology restoration and cope more effectively with global warming."