I'm interested in drones for data collection, and VERY interested in software for analysis and design assistance:
1) Imagine a camera-equipped 15g quadrotor (they already exist
and will only get cheaper and higher-resolution) and software for your computer to fly it around and survey your site. Not just the topography, but also the plants
. The current software for recognizing plants using machine vision isn't polished yet
, but it works (sometimes), and many people outside of permaculture are going to keep making it better regardless of whether we use it.
2) Imagine software that uses the site survey data to build a 3D model that includes plants (including how healthy and mature they appear to be) and topography.
3) Now imagine software that helps permaculture designers plan out their development efforts: plant this polyculture here, turn these low-value trees into wood chips there, run this number of chickens over this area, move this dirt to make swales or a pond here, get these off-site inputs of compost and woodchips to kick-start the initial growth, etc. The same software simulates what everything will look like in 2, 5, or 10 years. An app for a phone or a paper printout guides you through installing it. It could even estimate how much time it will take based on the types of tools you use (i.e. shovel vs. excavator) and how many people.
4) Imagine sending the drone out weekly to update the survey and collect data on the polycultures you've installed. How are the plants doing? Do they appear healthy? Are they putting on biomass faster or slower than expected? What can the software infer about your soil, daylight, and hydrological conditions from the growth of these plants?
5) Imagine sharing this polyculture data (the layout, the follow-up survey data, etc) in a file format that other people running this software can use. You've developed a bad-ass perennial polyculture in eastern Europe, and I see from your data and other people's data that it works in the northeastern US, so I import it into my site model and install a copy of it in real life.
6) Data scientists use software to crunch all this shared data and suggest new polycultures that are better-tuned for each micro-climate.
If we had these kinds of robot-data-collection and analysis software available to us, we'd make our own physical efforts far more productive, even if we're still doing everything by hand.