Technology and Automation

Harvesting Technology and Automation Trends

Conference Presenter: Rien Visser, University of Canterbury

Autonomous Technology

Changes in forest harvesting technology are occurring rapidly and on many fronts. New autonomous machines both already operating or under development include felling, hauling and ground-based extraction machines. Autonomous timber extraction is considered the area with most commercial potential, and developers can learn from cab-less technology already operational in other industries. Autonomous tree-felling is more challenging because robots cannot see, and as yet sensors are not sophisticated enough to recognise a tree from another similar shaped object.

UC Benchmarking System

The University of Canterbury Forestry Engineering department (UC) has been collecting harvesting data for over ten years now. The data includes costs, productivity and machine use in NZ forest harvesting, and enables trends to be identified and tracked. The data confirms increasing levels of mechanisation across harvesting operations; the size of machinery being used is also increasing.

Improving system performance through technology

Other potential introductions to NZ forest harvesting such as small European yarders, apps to monitor cable tension, and GPS tracking of machine use, are all under investigation. UC is involved in a number of projects including delivering training to logging crews, and research into utilisation of biomass collected from harvest landings.

Presentation:   Harvesting Technology & Automation Trends

A toolkit for the urban battlefield: eradicating plant pests

Conference Presenter: Jessica Kerr, Scion

A three-year multi-partner project – the Urban Battlefield – has created a number of innovative tools to improve ways of finding and eradicating unwanted newly arrived pests from urban areas. Outcomes from the Urban Battlefield project have been in three main areas:

  • active surveillance technologies – enabling faster responses with quick pest detection
  • targeted eradication tools – new tools that will improve efficacy and reduce environmental and social impacts
  • improved risk communication and engagement with urban communities.

The most exciting achievement has been the development of a cyborg – a mobile sensor capable of detecting insect pests by picking up tiny amounts of pheromones emitted from hairs on the target pest’s antennae. Through collaboration with French and Canadian scientists, the Scion team has developed a world-first dual antenna, light weight sensor, which at 0.5kg can either be hand-held or attached to a UAV and rapidly deployed to seek out unwanted pests.

The cyborg has been successfully tested with four different pest species, and the work has created an exciting research platform for the future.

Presentation:   Pest Eradication in Urban Areas

Automation and robotics: forestry work in the modern age

Conference presenter: Keith Raymond, Forest Growers Research Ltd

Negotiations for a new eight-year Primary Growth Partnership are in their final stages. The project is a sequel to the recently completed steep land harvesting PGP, which has led to development and commercialisation of a raft of new technologies.

The quest continues for a safer, more automated harvesting sector.  Labour shortages are limiting industry growth, safety and ‘licence to operate’ issues continue to threaten the industry, and the rising costs of harvesting using current systems are resulting in marginal profitability for some forests.

The vision is for new harvesting and log-sorting processes in large, centralised, robotic log-sorting yards shared by multiple forests and crews.  These centralised will largely remove the need for skid sites in the forest, reducing costs and increasing efficiency and safety.

The programme will comprise three contiguous projects:

  1. New automated technology – designing and developing new equipment and machinery, including landing based and sort-yard machines
  2. Human factors of automation – input into engineering design with a focus on human-machine interactions, and the new types of jobs that will be created by automation and robotics
  3. Commercialisation and deployment – from prototypes to initial deployment across the first three centralized log sort yards.

The programme is scheduled to commence in 2019, once negotiations and contracting amongst the numerous industry and other partners has been completed.

Presentation:  Automation and Robotics

Sensors and analytics in forestry

Conference Presenter: Bryan Graham, Scion

The user of sensors and data analytics offers the potential for the forest industry to make a quantum shift in the way it operates. Connections and tools are becoming increasingly available in what have traditionally been ‘hard to reach’ places (such as forests), thanks to satellite technology and use of the cloud to store and transmit data.

Examples of real-world applications relevant to forestry include logistics support and supply-chain optimisation, tools to predict the future (disease outbreaks, for example), and adjustments to transport routes based on real-time climate data.

These and many other types of applications are relevant to the forest industry, and already operational in some sectors.  Researchers are working to deliver sophisticated tools for the NZ forest industry, but a culture shift by foresters will be needed, both in terms of adopting the technology and in working together with data scientists who understand the data and its potential in real-world applications.

Presentation:   Sensors and analytics in Forestry