Whole new view of forestry
Quality of data collection and delivery have gone ahead in leaps and bounds
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.
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).