Jacobs University Student Founds Start-up to Save our Forests

This summer Bogdan Belenis presented his start-up Airoot at the Start-up Summit Bremen for the first time. The response was very positive. (Source: Karsten Klama/Handelskammer Bremen)


Climate change, agriculture, wood industry – according to estimates by the World Wildlife Fund, an average of thirteen million hectares of forests disappear worldwide every year. With his start-up Airoot, Jacobs University Bremen student Bogdan Belenis wants to facilitate the reforestation of such areas.

Bogdan Belenis was still a child when he set off with his parents for extensive hikes in the forests of the Carpathians at the age of twelve. It was then that he first noticed the cleared areas, often the result of illegal logging. The images stuck and when he developed a passion for drones, the idea seemed obvious: Why not use them for reforestation? And this is now precisely the goal of his start-up Airoot.

The loss of forest grounds is a major issue in Bogdan's home country Romania. However, with climate change, reforestation is becoming increasingly important in many regions of the world. Bogdan is convinced that drones can make an important contribution here. "They can be used in areas that are difficult to access and are more efficient than using people and machines," he said. According to his calculations, five of the drones he designed could replant around 300 hectares within eight hours, which is three times more than a team of 50 people planting manually for the same period would manage.

The technology appears to be rather straight forward: A small drone first explores the terrain and passes the information on to larger planting drones. These carry up to 600 small planting pods with seeds, which are pressed two to three centimeters deep into the ground by compressed air, similar to the paint balls used in paintball games. To protect the seeds from animals, the seed pods contain pepper, which is intended to deter but not injure them. Two to three kilometers is the range of a drone.

Bogdan developed the drones himself and also financed them, but is reaching his limits. He needs support to further develop his product and produce a prototype. At the Start-up Summit Bremen, he presented Airoot for the first time this summer. More than 600 people were present, and the response was very positive. "It was a very motivating experience," he said. Bogdan is looking for investors, applying to funding programs for start-ups, and would like to engage with experts in reforestation. A company in Romania has already signaled its interest in cooperation, as has Greenpeace Romania.

The reforestation project is by no means the only endeavor the student of Robotics and Intelligent Systems is after. Another passion of his are underwater robots. As part of a team of students from Jacobs University and the University of Pisa, he took part in a competition in La Spezia, Italy, this summer. It focused on robotics for the maintenance and inspection of underwater installations such as gas pipelines. His team placed third and was awarded the Rookie Award as best newcomer. He is also involved in a research project on the use of artificial intelligence in underwater robotics.

Jacobs University's expertise in robotics was one reason he chose Bremen for his studies. "You can hardly find a degree program like mine at any other European university. It offers bachelor students a lot of opportunities to apply theory early on," the 21-year-old said. The diversity of the university, with students from more than 110 nations, also played an important role in his decision to attend Jacobs University.

With the startup option J-CUB, the university promotes the startup potential of its students and employees. Bogdan has also completed the program, which supports university members in developing their business ideas through to market launch, by offering workshops on topics such as creating a business plan, financing or tax issues. A mentoring program is also included. "The program is very helpful and gives a lot of impulses, especially in the initial phase,” Bogdan said.

Even his free time is all about technology. As president of the student Aeronautics Club, he teaches other students to build drones. He is certain that these machines make our lives easier. "There are so many possible applications, including surveying trees and assessing their health," Bogdan explained. As president of the Racing VR Club, he is also working on simulation software for Formula 1 races.  

In addition, he rows, rides a racing bike and hikes. Once graduated next summer, he hopes to be back in the forests of the Carpathians. Of course, Bogdan wants to further develop Airoot, but after graduation he will also use his expertise to support other start-ups at Jacobs University.

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This text is part of the series "Faces", in which Constructor University introduces students, alumni, professors, and employees. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/faces