Chrystoff Camacho, an inventor and budding entrepreneur who developed an aerial reforestation device while he was an engineering technology student at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), received a Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award from the Research & Development Council of New Jersey for his drone-deployed seed capsule.
Camacho's device, a biodegradable packet containing seeds and mineral-rich soil, is loaded into what looks like a tiny missile that is dropped from the air. With its cone tip, it is designed to perforate the ground to implant the capsule, but to also allow water to permeate in dry regions where the land is baked hard.
He says a trip to his native Guyana in his teens opened his eyes to the growing problem of landscape decimation caused by logging. That got him thinking - and researching rates of tree loss around the world.
"My first idea was about developing some way to make the land in need of rehabilitation more productive. Land stripped of trees becomes dry and flat and can't hold water, so I was thinking about making conical imprints that would create mini-basins for trees or crops that would be planted by hand," Camacho recounts. "But that got me thinking about ways to do this by air, using velocity to make the imprint, because doing it by hand is so time-consuming. And then I had the idea of including the seeds and soil."
In his patent application, Camacho argued that the current state of the art in aerial reforestation is "limited by lack of sufficient ground penetration and difficulties with dispersal of larger seeds." His invention went on to win funding from NJIT, the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program and private angel investors, as well as awards in technology contests.
With $3,000 from the I-Corps program, Camacho and his team improved the prototype and sought out advice and customers through regional business accelerators. They caught the attention of tech entrepreneurs, prompting a $30,000 infusion from an angel investor to develop a drone platform and business structure. This process led to the formation of an environmental technology firm, ParaTrees.
Like many start-ups, it also evolved into new ideas and markets. Most recently, the company is providing monitoring and evaluation services to forest managers, using a range of technologies such as unmanned aerial systems, IoT sensors and AI to assess forest conditions and recommend remediation.
Camacho said he was thrilled to "just be in the room with so many great, veteran inventors" at the Research & Development Council's 40th annual Thomas Alva Edison Patent Awards at Liberty Science Center. Among the 15 patent awardees were major corporations such Celgene, Ethicon, Nokia Bell Labs and Siemens Corporate Technology.
"It was an honor to be among the world-renowned researchers that received awards this year," said Larry O'Connell, chairman of the board of the R&D Council and IBM's vice president of Global Technical Leadership. "New Jersey continues to produce significant inventions each year and it's integral to the Council's mission to highlight this work that positions New Jersey at the top of global innovation."
Camacho also thanked his many mentors on the NJIT campus who help him create his device and build it into a company with paying customers. They include Nancy Jackson, a professor of chemistry and environmental science, William Marshall, an assistant vice president for government affairs and a director of NJIT's New Jersey Innovation Institute, responsible for its defense and homeland security innovation lab, and the co-directors of the campus I-Corps program, Michael Ehrlich, an associate professor of finance, and Judith Sheft, an associate vice president of strategic relationships and external affairs.
"As a student at NJIT and young entrepreneur, I worked closely with university professors and advisers to push the envelope surrounding the startup community on campus," he said. "NJIT has always been a catalyst for innovation, and it's amazing to see the support that is being focused on student entrepreneurship with funding and training opportunities through campus programs like the Undergraduate Research and Innovation program, I-Corps and VentureLink, NJIT's business incubator."
About New Jersey Institute of Technology:
One of only 32 polytechnic universities in the United States, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. NJIT is rated an "R1" research university by the Carnegie Classification®, which indicates the highest level of research activity. NJIT conducts approximately $170 million in research activity each year and has a $2.8 billion annual economic impact on the State of New Jersey. NJIT is ranked #1 nationally by Forbes for the upward economic mobility of its lowest-income students and is ranked 53rd out of more than 4,000 colleges and universities for the mid-career earnings of graduates, according to PayScale.com. NJIT also is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 national universities.