Conservationists have a new tool to save endangered plants. They call it ‘The Mamba’

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — In Kauai, plant scientists and conservationists working on cliffsides rely on drones to determine exactly where they need to go to reach rare and endangered species.

“We can go right in and get the elevation, the GPS position of the plants,” said Tim Nyberg, drone coordinator for the National Tropical Botanical Garden. “And we can look at high resolution photos and select the exact individual that may have seeds on them.”

To collect seeds and plant cuttings, the NTBG team and partner agencies have to grab them by hand.

But now they have a new tool.

“I was approached by a group in Quebec, Canada that was working on drone-based cutting mechanisms,” Nyberg said.

He helped Outreach Robotics technicians adapt their robotic arm for plant conservation work.

The device is airlifted by a drone to plants that are difficult for scientists to access by climbing and rappelling down steep cliffs.

“It rotates to reach three to five meters or about 15 feet from where the drone is horizontally,” Nyberg said.

When focusing on a plant, the remote arm cuts a sample and collects the seeds which are brought back to NTBG’s nursery in a fraction of the time it takes by conventional means.

“It really makes things a lot more efficient and we’re more successful at growing the plants once they’re there,” Nyberg said.

The robotic arm is called “The Mamba”.

“It’s a bit long and it has a mouth at the end, so it reminds us of a black Mamba snake,” he said.

The team still does manual pickups, but “The Mamba” goes where it can’t.

“It really allows us to access areas that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach,” Nyberg said.

Now NTBG and Outreach Robotics are working on a new app for the arm that reverses what it was designed to do.

“Instead of closing when we get to the cliff, dropping something, establishing a factory and then being able to put it back on the cliff with the exact same mechanism,” Nyberg said.

This may be a game-changer for some of Hawaii’s endangered plant species that are on the verge of extinction.