Born in the Netherlands and raised in Canada, Dr. Nadina Galle developed her love for the outdoors from a young age. Growing up in suburbia, she questioned the imbalance between nature and urban development, and committed herself to building better urban ecosystems for people and nature. As an ecological engineer, she applies emerging technologies to monitor (and reconnect people to) urban ecology through her framework the ‘Internet of Nature’.
First of all, what exactly is the Internet of Nature?
“The Internet of Nature (IoN) makes use of emerging technologies, like sensors, satellite imagery, computer algorithms, and many more, to represent urban ecosystems and turn green spaces into data that helps us better understand how to manage them. It doesn’t only collect data to help monitor these important spaces, but also reconnect city dwellers to nature — and better understand how people feel about it. For example, one of the IoN technologies we’ve experimented with is sentiment analysis to mine citizen opinion of green space by training a computer to ‘decipher’ online reviews, interaction and engagement rates. This way we learn more about how people experience green spaces.”
How did you come up with the idea of the Internet of Nature?
“I have always been intrigued by precision farming and forestry, also known as the use of technology to collect data to make decisions for site-specific management in the agricultural and timber sectors. These technologies can improve crop and timber quality, protect the environment, reduce waste, increase profits and preserve resources. After seeing both the ‘Smart City’ and ‘Green City’ agendas gain popularity, irrespective of one another, I began to explore ways to integrate these precision methods to build greener and smarter cities. In my research and work, I have experimented with sensors, satellite and drone images, online reviews, big data, plant ID apps, and many more, to find the best ways to measure and monitor urban nature. From that, the Internet of Nature arose, helping us monitor green, but also reconnect people to the greenery at their doorstep.”
Can you give an example of the Internet of Nature in practise?
“An exciting example is TreeMania, a soil sensor company that provides data for the cultivation, planting, and care of urban trees and shrubs. TreeMania embodies the Internet of Nature by combining cutting-edge IoT (Internet of Things) soil sensors, long-range (LoRa) and 4G infrastructure with artificial intelligence (AI) to collect soil health data. Compiling this data into dashboards provides the basis for real-time and historical data analytics, to help contractors optimize tree care, tree watering and soil health. I work with TreeMania to build strategic partnerships to increase brand traction, expand our customer base, access additional resources and stimulate revenue growth.”
What does the Internet of Nature bring to the water sector?
“Urban ecologists and planners are responsible for safeguarding urban green. But they often feel powerless due to the lack of insights they need to reverse this trend. There are structural problems endemic to urban forestry management working against the more and more ambitious tree-planting targets in today’s cities. If nothing changes, they will continue to waste water, time and money on inefficient research methods, lack solid arguments to influence policies that protect green areas and watch the decay of urban ecosystems accelerate. It doesn’t have to be this way: the Internet of Nature offers solutions for building greener cities, like more efficient use of water. Sensors, for example, can predict when plants need water, give insights on growth and condition, and ultimately tell us when we need to take action.”
What is holding people back from implementing the Internet of Nature?
“Sometimes people are scared of technology. They might be afraid certain jobs become superfluous. But there’s also a lack of understanding, some people may not know how to get the most out of certain tech, and give up before it has shown its added value. In both ways, people need to become aware tech helps us to optimize. People won’t be replaced, they now have the tools to do their work faster than before. Plus, it’s a solid business case. It’s more efficient to use the Internet of Nature, than waste time and money on a too general approach.”
How can you take away these prejudices?
“Now this, I had to learn the hard way. When I started working, I mainly talked to big audiences. People applauded, but the crowd using my concept was small. I had to do it differently. I learned: we can’t generalise people or an environment, each case needs its own solution. So instead of talking, I decided to ask questions.
Now, I try to listen carefully and really get into an individual’s hesitation to use the Internet of Nature. This approach really works. Moreover, I always make sure I present the business case in an appealing way so people are more likely to be drawn to it. People need to see the added value in the blink of an eye; it also helps when others share their experiences with my concept. Every positive review increases the awareness and engagement.”
Do you have some advice for the AIWW community?
“Most of us hold on to the idea of ‘strategy first’. I sometimes think, put action first, and adjust your strategy later. Start with a pilot, learn from it. Many of my ideas originate from the process of trial and error, including a lot of frustration. But I’ve learned from it, improved my ideas and became more resilient along the way. It is appalling how many sustainability strategies, which have cost millions, are unused. Such a waste of time, resources and good ideas. It makes me wish those ideas had already been piloted, so we can move ahead faster.
Perhaps more specifically related to water, in order to make cities greener, we need to take (better) care of existing, but also, plant more trees. For these new seedlings, water is the most important resource. Water will literally make or break a young tree’s survival. The AIWW community can help share knowledge on how to optimize the use of water for cities’ increasingly ambitious tree planting targets.”
About Dr. Nadina Galle
Dr. Nadina Galle works at the forefront of smart urban ecology as an ecological engineer (PhD), technologist, and a TEDx and keynote speaker. Galle is recognised for her work in the famous Forbes Under 30 list. Nadina: “I’m an ecological engineer and entrepreneur dedicated to working with urban ecologists and planners to apply today’s technology to improve urban ecosystems for future generations of city dwellers. I believe in science for all and aspire to translate technological and scientific discoveries into public knowledge.”
For more information, please check https://www.nadinagalle.com