Whole new view of forestry

Qual­ity of data col­lec­tion and de­liv­ery have gone ahead in leaps and bounds

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

Be­ing able to cruise or as­sess a plot in the for­est with­out hav­ing to phys­i­cally go there is now a step closer. Re­searchers from Australia and New Zealand are con­clud­ing a project link­ing for­est in­ven­tory, data pro­cess­ing and Vir­tual Re­al­ity (VR).

Demon­stra­tions of this new-age sys­tem were ea­gerly watched (and par­tic­i­pated in) at the re­cent ForestTECH con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne. Us­ing Vir­tual Re­al­ity (VR) head­sets, par­tic­i­pants were shown how they could view and as­sess the size, shape, and form of trees in­side the vir­tual plot. This new tech­nol­ogy has the po­ten­tial to greatly im­prove the safety of field mea­sure­ment, es­pe­cially in ar­eas that are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess.

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 forestry op­er­a­tions are man­aged.

Vir­tual Re­al­ity (VR) is a 3D hu­man com­puter in­ter­face tech­nol­ogy that en­ables users to be im­mersed in a com­put­er­gen­er­ated vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment. VR has made pos­si­ble ap­pli­ca­tions 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.

De­scribed as a niche con­fer­ence with re­sul­tant ma­jor ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the whole forestry and timber in­dus­try, ForestTECH at­tracted 140 rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the Mel­bourne event and a sim­i­lar crowd at the New Zealand event.

Cut­ting edge

Mike Sut­ton (Man­ager, For­est In­for­ma­tion & Plan­ning, Forestry Cor­po­ra­tion NSW), who has at­tended a num­ber of ForestTECH con­fer­ences, de­scribed the event as good op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to get ex­posed to what other peo­ple are do­ing in the tech­nol­ogy area.

“Once again it’s been a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to hear what’s go­ing on in the de­vel­op­ment area and to meet and talk to peo­ple who are work­ing in sim­i­lar fields and also a range of ar­eas. Some of it is pretty cut­ting edge stuff, too,” he said

When asked about changes that have fol­lowed ForestTECH con­fer­ences and re­sul­tant re­search he was quick to site the in­tro­duc­tion and ad­vance­ment of LiDAR.

“Hav­ing been in­volved in that (LiDAR) not only in ForesTECH but also in that area it­self, it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing to see what has hap­pened in the pre­vi­ous 12 months. The fun­da­men­tals are the same but it’s the qual­ity of the data and the im­proved pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity, or the ad­di­tional prod­ucts that you can get, for link­ing in­for­ma­tion to­gether

“Prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing thing this time has been see­ing where the FWPA projects are start­ing to come to­gether and to de­liver some very in­ter­est­ing re­sults.

Mak­ing things safer

“In the past we were look­ing at broad scale LiDAR across large ar­eas and now we’re bring­ing it right down to the plot level and be­ing able to vir­tu­alise (have a vir­tual plot). That was some­thing that Dr Chris­tine Stone (Leader For­est Sci­ence, NSW Depart­ment of In­dus­try Lands & Forestry) and I talked about years ago. We thought back then wouldn’t it be good if we could cre­ate a vir­tual plot and make it safer.

“By us­ing the tech­nol­ogy we’ve got from LiDAR, not only from ear­lier on but with the im­prove­ments in the sen­sors and the abil­ity to get more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion, and bring­ing in peo­ple from non-forestry ar­eas (ro­bot­ics and HITLab -- not what you would nor­mally as­so­ciate with for­est in­for­ma­tion), bring­ing their skills in and bring­ing that im­proved data with new tech­niques you start to see it all come to­gether,” said Mike.

He stressed, too, that one of the strengths of ForestTECH was that it pro­vided a good fo­rum and gen­uine area in which peo­ple could col­lab­o­rate ... “a lot of us are work­ing al­ready in a col­lab­o­ra­tive sense through things like FWPA projects”.

“We’re not only hear­ing what other peo­ple are do­ing but by mak­ing those con­tacts makes that col­lab­o­ra­tion go much fur­ther,” he said

David Her­ries (Gen­eral Man­ager, In­ter­pine Group), is an­other who has been a strong sup­porter of ForestTECH for years.

Head­ing in the right di­rec­tion

“ForestTECH al­lows like minded peo­ple in the field to come to­gether once a year and to talk about in­no­va­tion, new tech­nolo­gies, and hope­fully get some adop­tion of those tech­nolo­gies; then it’s up to com­pa­nies to make ef­fec­tive change and to man­age forests bet­ter.

“I guess there’s not that many op­por­tu­ni­ties for the peo­ple in this room to come to­gether from both sides of the Tas­man and as much as the pre­sen­ta­tions are in­cred­i­bly use­ful it’s also the net­work­ing and the dis­cus­sions that come out that help re­searchers head in the right di­rec­tion. It’s also good for the prac­ti­tion­ers to dis­cuss how we can utilise that re­search and im­ple­ment it to make things bet­ter.

“So­cial­is­ing, in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy is re­ally im­por­tant be­cause it takes a while for peo­ple to move from first see­ing some­thing to adopt­ing and ac­tu­ally mak­ing use of it. So, ForestTECH is a great av­enue for so­cial­is­ing tech­nol­ogy that you may adopt to­mor­row or in a years time or five years time.

LiDAR’s leaps and bounds

“If I look at ForestTECH five years ago we had a lot of slides up here de­scrib­ing what LiDAR was and that maybe it might be of in­ter­est for forestry com­pa­nies to use. We’ve now reached a time when I would say up­wards of 80% of Australia’s soft­wood es­tate is cov­ered in high den­sity LiDAR.

“We’ve now got users of that tech­nol­ogy who first learned about it at ForestTECH then net­worked about it and dis­cussed it with their re­searchers to find out and trial it then come back to ForestTECH and talk about it. Then you’ve got the adopters mov­ing through to an ex­tent where it reaches the point of now that we’ve got this data how do we use it, and how can we use it now and in five years time.

“Some of the stuff we’ve seen with VR (tree seg­men­ta­tion, ad­vanced met­rics anal­y­sis) is start­ing to an­swer the ques­tions we had five years ago ... can we use LiDAR? It’s shown to be that we can.

“ForestTECH is a good feed­back venue for the in­dus­try and to get the re­searchers to­gether and to talk about where were go­ing in the fu­ture,” David said.

Just briefly, here are some of the take-out points from ForestTECH in Mel­bourne:We’re trans­form­ing the way we think about re­source al­lo­ca­tion.

The AgTech rev­o­lu­tion is show­ing the way for the forestry in­dus­try.

There’s a lot more data but it is be­ing an­a­lysed and dis­trib­uted more ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively.

The fu­ture is now! In­creased com­puter power, highly ac­ces­si­ble VR and AR, im­proved graph­ics, Cloud, ma­chine learn­ing are all play­ing a ma­jor part.

High al­ti­tude pseudo Satel­lite (Ze­phyr) op­er­ates at 65,000 ft, so­lar pow­ered, ideal for in­tel­li­gence, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, forestry man­age­ment and a host of ad­di­tional fields.

■ Vir­tual Re­al­ity be­ing put to the test at the ForestTECH Con­fer­ence.

■ Dr Winyu Chintham­mit, lead­ing re­search sci­en­tist at the Hu­man In­ter­face Tech­nol­ogy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia.

■ David Her­ries (Gen­eral Man­ager, In­ter­pine Group).

■ Mark Jones (Forestry Cor­po­ra­tion of NSW) and Mike Sut­ton (Man­ager, For­est In­for­ma­tion & Plan­ning, Forestry Cor­po­ra­tion NSW).

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