When IoT means internet of trees

  • June 21, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

For those who thought IoT stood for the internet of things, think again. California start-up EPlant is changing it to the internet of trees.

With over two years of research and development with researchers and universities, EPlant is introducing a smart yard system that gives trees a voice and lets them tell owners what they need when they need it.

The system measures a tree’s behaviour and health and provides reporting and proactive suggestions to keep the trees thriving. The sensor and AI-powered software have been designed to track and analyse health patterns using smart algorithms with quality care for trees in mind.

People tend to water too much or too little, plant with too much sun or not enough, and never know when to fertilise or prune. This is why up to half of urban and household trees die by age seven. That’s a loss for the tree, property values and the planet. Keeping trees alive can feel like a full-time job, and it shouldn’t.

“Planting trees is vital to combating climate change, but we need to keep them alive,” said Graham Hine, CEO of EPlant. “Alas, most of us aren’t tree care experts. So our trees can end up neglected, unwatered or unhealthy. Sometimes we end up having to pay someone to remove them. When we do that, we’ve wasted the resources we spent to help them grow, we lose the value they brought to us, and we lose time in the years and years it takes to grow another tree. With EPlant, the tree itself asks for, and guides, care, eliminating much of the guesswork so you can preserve the health of your valued trees.”

Created by a team of consumer hardware experts and robotic engineers from Fitbit, Liquid Robotics, Symantec, SanDisk, Asyst Technologies, Microlinear, Google and other technology companieswith advisors fromJohn Deere, Georgia Tech, University of Washington and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the EPlant team has dozens of patents and decades of experience. 

Designed with climate-conscious individuals and families in mind, the EPlant TreeTag is a tool for anyone who wants to listen, learn and make a difference.

The AI-powered sensor system provides insights and real-time monitoring to get proactive guidance into: 

  • Irrigation: Information about the right amount of water to use and when it’s needed.
  • Leaning: Is the tree leaning since that last rainstorm? Could it fall? The accelerometer tells how the tree has tilted over time.
  • Environment: What is the tree’s microenvironment, and how is it responding to changes?
  • Growth: How is the tree growing, and when? How does that translate to carbon capture?
  • General advice: How to mulch, when to fertilise, how to prune and where to plant. The tree knows best.

For the first time, tree owners can learn the warning signs directly from the trees themselves to predict tree falls before they happen and talk to them using the EPlant app. Here’s a sample conversation:

  • Tree: “Hello there, It’s me Gumdrop! Your eucalyptus friend. I am feeling a little bit concerned today because I have been leaning more than usual.”
  • Homeowner: “How much are you leaning?”
  • Tree: “I’m leaning two degrees more to the north versus a week ago and I’m worried about toppling over.”
  • Homeowner: “How can I help you?”
  • Tree: “It’s time to call an arborist to take a look at me. I’m concerned about falling on my surroundings.”
  • Homeowner: “What do you think of your EPlant sensor?”
  • Tree: “I’m a tree, so I can’t have opinions on things like that. However, I can tell you that my EPlant sensor is a valuable tool for monitoring my health and ensuring that I’m getting the proper care I need to continue thriving. The point dendrometer gives great insight into how much water I’m taking up, and the temperature and humidity systems help keep track of any unusual changes in my environment. Overall, it’s a beneficial device.”

Each starter bundle comes with a solar-powered TreeTag that can be installed on the tree, a plug-in bridge for wireless connection, and a free one-year subscription to the EPlant app ($24 value) and recognition as a founding member of the EPlant community which carries lasting benefits.

To begin, the user plugs in the bridge inside their home, then inserts the TreeTag into the tree. The EPlant app provides prompts to connect the tree and name it. Within 20 minutes, they can begin collecting plant insights and receive proactive updates on the tree’s health.

To find out how a tree is doing, they open the app and select a tree. Within seconds, the AI-powered system will begin a conversation where they can ask the tree about its health and needs and receive advice on planting, growing, pruning and more. Once installed, it requires zero maintenance and has an average lifespan of ten years. A notification on the phone happens if the tree has an urgent need.

The tree monitoring system is being used by organisations such as California Polytechnic State University, Stanford University, University of California, Davis, University of California, Riverside, and the city of San Luis Obispo.