2022 - 2023
Autonomous Tree Planting Robot 

    2022 - 2023

    2018 - 2023

    2021 - 2022

    2018 - 2019

    2016 - 2017

    2015 - 2016

“Autonomous Tree Planting Robot”

Robin Price
Ieva Jakusa
Maria Oiva

Design & Research 

City Science Lab, Hamburg City University
Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS)
German Federal Cultural Foundation

The project explores alternative approaches to city planning with a speculative proposal for an autonomous tree planting robot.

Equipped with sensors, solar panels, and a drill, the robot is programmed to plant trees in heat islands in Hamburg. Regardless of whether in the middle of a highway, or a busy public square, the robot’s single criteria for deciding whether to intervene is based on temperature and surface data. If it’s too hot and on the right surface, the robot will drill into the asphalt and plant a tree.  

Urban heat islands pose a growing risk to human health and the global climate, as temperatures in cities are rising faster than their surroundings. This is down to the enormous solar gain of concrete and asphalt surfaces, and a result of the priorities of modern city planning: focused on cars and road infrastructures at the expense of green spaces. Trees are one of the simplest solutions to urban heat islands: shading hard road surfaces from solar gain.

By outsourcing this task to a swarm of autonomous tree planting robots, the project asks several questions: What if city planning was automated strictly according to climate data? What if cities prioritised trees over cars? What if city planning prioritised climate and ecosystem health over human comfort and the economy? How would city planning change if we relinquished control to non-human actors? What trade-offs and compromises will we have to make in the face of the climate crisis?

The design of the robot draws inspiration from different insects: grasshoppers, mosquitoes, cockroaches, beetles, and stalk eyed flies. The result is a kind of mutant insect: a robot pollinator.

We are currently working on the programming of the robot’s algorithm—which draws on climate data and scientific input from GERICS (Climate Service Center Germany), to hack the code of Connected Urban Twin, an agent-based simulation tool of the City Science Lab. We will run a simulation for urban heat islands in Hamburg and the gradually appearing urban forest, resulting from the robots’ activity.

The code will highlight a number of potentially relevant places within the city where trees should be planted. We plan on inviting city planners of Hamburg to consider planting physical trees in these locations.

This project is an outcome of “City Climate meets Creative Coding,” a research project initiated by the City Science Lab at HafenCity University Hamburg, with the aim of fostering collaboration between artists and scientists in the context of climate change, data, and city planning. The project was awarded additional funding from the German Federal Cultural Foundation and will be presented to the public in Hamburg in October 2023.