Tree-planting robot tested in Alashan Desert by ECNU research team


A five-member research team from the Software Engineering Institute of ECNU tested out its recently developed tree-planting robot in the Alashan Desert of Inner Mongolia – an uninhabited desert in North China – during the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday earlier this month.

The research team tests the tree-planting robot in AlashanDesert.

Associate professor Zhang Xinyu and postgraduate students Zhao Yao, Tang Jingtao, Xiao Jianye and Sun Chun.

The robot has an in-built twist drill and is powered by photovoltaic solar energy supported by state-of-the-art technologies such as unmanned drivers and AI functions. Small in size and light-weight, it causes little damage to the vulnerable surface soil in the desert. Besides that, it is less costly and easier to be assembled, manufactured and deployed at a large scale than the traditional farm tractor.

Tree-planting robot.

Its advantage lies in that the device, which is built by integrating technologies of various types of robots, can realize automatic, large-scale and all-weather operations. Working with the standardized irrigation-free seedlings-raising equipment and monitored via an intelligent platform, the robot can increase the efficiency of tree planting by more than 100 times with survival rates reaching at least 95 percent, Zhang Xinyu said. According to him, the robot can also be used in precise positioning and periodic observation of vegetation during the plants' growing season through cloud remote management, monitoring and big data analysis.

The robot is the latest development under the lab's Robot Cluster Project In Support of Large-scale Desert Ecological Rehabilitation. The project was initiated by the five-member research team in 2018. The team is also working on the development of other robots that include functions such as hole-digging, seedlings-releasing, watering and monitoring and tree-protection.

The postgraduate students: Zhao Yao, Tang Jingtao, Xiao Jianye and Sun Chun.

The program is tested.

We hope to develop as many robots as we can to help with tree planting in harsh desert environments, Zhang said. This time we are satisfied with the robot's performance in satellite navigation and environmental perception. We also find some glitches and will fix them in the future.

They debug the device at a herdsman's home late at night.

To a vast no-man's land like Alashan Desert, a man is no different than a shrub, Zhang said. But our robot may make a big difference in the future in the war against desertification.


One of the four team members, Sun Chun, was thrilled at the whole experience. It was the first time for me to witness with my own eyes that a device developed by ourselves was deployed on the land of our motherland and it was a success, he said. I hope our robots will be able to help make China greener and contribute more to desertification control in countries along the Belt and Road.

Sun Chun, an ECNU postgraduate student is interviewed by CCTV.

Edited by Siyuan Zhang   Proofread by Joshua Mayfield    Reviewed by Wenjun Guo


East China Normal University