The Man Behind the Drone

From the beginning, Land Life’s relationship with technology has been symbiotic. Land Life uses data and applies it to implement technology and achieve the goal of reforesting thousands of hectares of degraded land on the planet. All this would not be possible without the great team of professionals we have in the tech team. One of the key players is Santiago Martínez, also known as ‘Mr Drone’. 

Santiago works in the tech and innovation team to create the tools that make Land Life projects scalable and optimized through drones. We decided to chat with ‘Mr Drone’ about how this technology is applied in our restoration projects, about the future of this technology and new challenges and opportunities that will come in the future, as well as some interesting moments experienced during his career and professional experience as a pilot. 

Hello Santiago, could tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at Land Life?

My name is Santiago Martínez, and I am a technician in charge of drone flights. My main work involves mapping the land that we are going to reforest in Spain and Portugal. I also collaborate on the supervision work, when the plantings are finished, and I make specific flights to take images used for marketing or communication actions. 

What role does this kind of technology have at Land Life?

Technology is one of the pillars of our company. We make a difference by using innovative techniques and methodologies that allow us to have very high-quality results. We are developing planting equipment to facilitate the work, using drones and satellites to identify the land and analyze it. We also use plantation monitoring technology, with our own software.

What types of drones do we use?

At Land Life, we currently have two types of drones, one fixed-wing and three multi-rotor types. The fixed-wing drone allows us to fly over larger areas, which shortens our work time in the field. The multi-rotors are of different sizes and are more versatile. They have a lower performance in the field but are more easily maneuverable when mapping more complex areas. The smaller equipment is mainly used for audiovisual and marketing purposes. The other equipment, with higher performance, is used for high-precision mapping, to study the areas we are going to work on. In addition, in some cases, we can exchange and use different types of sensors to take and extract very useful information from the terrain for the next steps of the project: LiDAR sensor, RGB camera and multispectral sensor. 

What role do drones play in Land Life’s projects?

One of the main functions of our drones is mapping. When we start a new project, we need to know what type of terrain we will be working with. For example, does it have slopes? If so, are they steep or gradual? We use mapping to decipher if the site has rocks, roads and many other factors. All this is done through photogrammetry, a technique that allows the three-dimensional reconstruction of real elements through photographs.

Why do we need these tools?

Although there is cartography available online in the different official repositories, for example from the IGN, for some tasks its resolution is too low and does not allow us to recognize the smallest elements, something required by our technicians. 

With all this in mind, what are the challenges ahead when it comes to using drones and their technological advancement in the company’s projects?

Developing the software side is undoubtedly one of the main ones. It is true that all drone technology is highly developed at a global level. We already have multispectral images, such as RGB and very advanced lidar data from our equipment. We must develop algorithms that automatically extract interesting information for Land Life technicians. In other words, we need to give the drone a brain so that it can extract useful information from what it sees. For example, the height of the trees or their condition. This would reduce analysis time in the office and speed up the technicians’ processes in the field. 

How do you feel about using drones to plant our trees? 

Although companies are working on this issue in the market, we have not yet implemented it as it is not a science that is 100% developed. If we throw a seed anywhere, there is a good chance that the seed will not germinate. The maturity of this technology will come when that seed falling from a drone has a high enough probability of success. I suppose that in the future this will be developed more, but in the short term, it is not something that we are going to implement in Land Life. Besides, our forests have specific characteristics for the search for resilience, improving biodiversity and making them stronger against fires, so launching from the air would not be as accurate.

Any anecdotes you can tell us about drones?

I have been working with drones for many years, and I have many anecdotes in my backpack. If I had to choose one thing, I like thermal cameras, especially for tracking wild animals, both for inventory and specific cases. 

There was a time when we were studying the presence of animals in protected areas with a laser, supposedly that laser was supposed to scare those animals, although in practice it didn’t do it. While flying over a reed bed in the Seville area, I saw a family of wild boars sleeping and I had the opportunity to approach them at a very close distance without them noticing and take some spectacular photos and videos. It would be very interesting, in the future, to include such sensors at Land Life to track biodiversity development in our forests. 

Where do you think technology and drones will go in the coming decades?

It is difficult to know, we find a lot of news on the internet about the movement and transport of people and even packages, although it is more complicated because of legislation. We are very interested in this type of development, to implement technologies as soon as possible that will help us to carry out even better quality on our reforestation projects in less time, with less risk to the land. We are aware that working in the bush has its risks, but through technology, we will try to prevent these. 

Thank you very much for explaining what drones and their technology mean for Land Life, as well as the work you do on a daily basis. It is clear that drones and their development are something fundamental for us and that they bring and will bring a lot of value in the future.