Virtual Reality becoming more of a reality in forest management
Researchers from Australia and New Zealand are concluding a project linking forest inventory, data processing and Virtual Reality (VR). Dr Winyu Chinthammit, leading research scientist at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Tasmania, believes that over the next few years the technology may change the concept with which we manage forestry operations
Virtual Reality (VR) is a 3D human computer interface technology that enables users to be immersed in a computer generated virtual environment. VR has made possible applications, such as Telepresence, where users can perform tasks from remote locations.
“In forestry, there are a number of essential tasks that currently are performed manually in timber plantations and native forests, such as tree and plot measurements for inventory assessments. The VR technology offers a unique opportunity to fundamentally change forest operation practices for which human perceptual skills are required,” he said.
“We are currently investigating the potential of immersive VR environment in forest inventory, in particular an operation aiming to obtain both tree size measurements and stem quality assessments, such as branching and sweep required for accurate yield estimates. “We call this operation ‘cruising’.”
The inventory plots are acquired/scanned with terrestrial or airborne platforms with photogrammetric or LiDAR technologies. The results are a set of dense point cloud data, which can be viewed with visualization software on a desktop platform. However users are required to operate through the small field of view of a conventional display screen. This is where VR and its 3D immersive rendering could be highly beneficial.
The visualization of 3D spatial data such as structures of trees in a forest in a VR environment has advantages over a conventional desktop/laptop environment. The immersiveness of a VR interface allows users/operators to see the 3D scanning
of the trees in a 1:1 scale with the real world environment, and therefore enables operators to perform the tasks (e.g. assessment) with their natural perceptual ability, very similar to physically being on location.
Dr Chinthammit and colleagues Dr Jon Osborn (Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania) and Dr Christine Stone (New South Wales Department of Industry – Lands & Forestry) are working on a project that is investigating how VR technology can be used for a remote assessment of individual Pinus radiata trees with dense point clouds.
The project is still in its early stage, however, the current VR prototype has already received positive feedback from collaborating industry partners and the funding body, Forest and Wood Products Australia. It should be noted that success to this approach is dependent on the accuracy of the dense point clouds and adequate coverage over the features of interest such as tree stems. “This is currently being investigated in another part of our project,” he said.
VR technology is just one of a myriad of like topics scheduled for discussion at ForestTECH 2017 (BayView Eden, Melbourne, 21-22 November; Distinction Rotorua Hotel, Rotorua, 15-16 November)