Vir­tual Re­al­ity be­com­ing more of a re­al­ity in for­est man­age­ment

Australian Forests and Timber - - Foresttech 17 -

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)

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