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Local scientists have a new aerial tool in the fight to save endangered plants

"Mamba" hands off a cutting of Lysimachia iniki.
Ben Nyberg
"Mamba" hands off a cutting of Lysimachia iniki.

Local scientists working with a team of engineers have come up with a new weapon in the fight to save endangered plant species.

It’s a robot arm that works with a drone — and can be lowered to collect rare and endangered plants.

Staffers at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauaʻi worked with engineers and researchers in Canada to produce the robotic arm — which they call “Mamba.”

The device is about the length of a fishing pole with eight propellers and a cutting mechanism — all of which are suspended by a drone.

Plant specialists say this approach saves a lot of time in retrieving fragile cuttings from high cliffs and other remote locations. That’s crucial because it greatly improves their chances of survival.

"This combination of robotics and botany is exciting, and is already having an amazing impact both in species conservation and the knowledge we’re gaining about cliff environments," said NTBG drone specialist Ben Nyberg.

The progress of the project has been published in the journal "Nature - Scientific Reports."

Specialists with the botanical garden say Kauaʻi is home to 255 plant species found nowhere else on earth. Nearly 90% of them are classified as endangered or critically endangered.

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