Thank you to everyone involved in last month’s ForestTECH 2020 that ran a couple of weeks ago. In a first for ForestTECH, a new hybrid format enabled us to host over 150 at the physical event in Rotorua and another 150 plus from 20 different countries virtually online. This global event highlighted new technologies in remote sensing, data capture, inventory management, forest establishment, mechanised planting and automated silviculture. A full write up and image gallery can be found in the story below. Video recordings and speaker presentations have already been provided to all conference delegates.
While still early days, ForestTECH 2021 has been scheduled for 16-17 November 2021 in Melbourne, Australia and 23-24 November 2021 in Rotorua, New Zealand. The exact format of next year’s event, depending on your feedback this year and how exactly COVID-19 is being handled, will be relayed to you in the first quarter of 2021.
December is finally here and what a year it’s been. COVID-19, the biggest pandemic in 100 years, has seen countries shutdown, borders closed and economies severely impacted. It’s also reinforced the importance of family, our colleagues and our connections throughout the sector. With vaccines now on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what a post-COVID world looks like this time next year.
It’s also easy to overlook that 2020 brought us the devastating forest fires in Australia, elections in New Zealand and the USA, international trade disputes, Californian wildfires and the rise of workplace technologies like Zoom – just to name a few.
This month’s issue of ForestTECH News covers a couple of excellent stories on using drones and sensors within forests to better detect and manage forest fires. We also highlight a system that’s been developed to better link satellite imagery with environmental data and, finally, cover a new solar-powered drone that’s being designed in NZ which they claim will rethink aerial imaging.
This will be the last ForestTECH News issue for 2020 and we will be back February 2021. We plan to be back in February 2021. Enjoy your Christmas break – if one is being taken – and thank you for your support and input over this last year.
Remember, you can also send through any contributions, stories or links that we can pass onto the wider community.
In the lead up to ForestTECH 2020, most within the industry would have thought that it would have been a very hard (in fact, nigh near impossible) task to get forestry resource and tree crop managers together from across Australasia at any physical event.
Despite COVID-19, country border restrictions, tight health and safety requirements for running physical events and a minor scare in Auckland the week before the event ran, we did it. ForestTECH 2020 ran in Rotorua, New Zealand on 18-19 November 2020.
To meet and talk with foresters as part of the ForestTECH 2020 event has been a learning and networking experience for many of our ForestTECH community.
From discussions with this years’ delegates in New Zealand, it’s also been a much-needed tonic for a year that’s hit everyone with repeated COVID-19 lockdown’s and restrictions. In fact, the last physical event run for forestry and wood products companies was 12 months ago, ForestTECH 2019 that ran in both New Zealand and Australia. It was long over-due.
Well over 300 establishment foresters, tree crop supervisors and planners, establishment and silvicultural foresters, resource managers, remote sensing, GIS and mapping specialists and inventory foresters were involved in Rotorua on 18-19 November 2020.
Workshops, meetings, field demonstrations and a two-day technology conference and trade exhibitions all ran for the wider industry during the week.
The live and virtual hybrid format for ForestTECH 2020 also enabled a much wider cross-section of International presenters and delegates to be involved.
Delegates from 20 different countries for the first time were involved as part of the online streaming of the event out of Rotorua, New Zealand.
Delegates this year included representation from companies located in; New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Brazil, USA, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Ireland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China, South Africa, Latvia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
ForestTECH 2020 for the first time in 13 years since it has been running was split into two main technology streams.
1. Remote sensing, data capture and inventory management
ForestTECH 2020 provided insights into new data collection technologies that have been developed and are being used operationally out in the forest along with advances that had been made on processing and better interpreting the big data streams now routinely being collected.
Updates on disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, IOT, machine and deep learning, robotics, automation, daily satellite imagery, UAV’s and the use of virtual and augmented reality and how they’re being integrated into day to day operations of forestry companies were covered by international and national presenters.
2. Forest establishment, mechanised planting and silviculture
ForestTECH 2020 also included a full day on technologies around forest establishment, mechanised planting and silviculture.
A significant number of presentations given at last year’s ForestTECH series covered research and trials being undertaken on planting with drones, seedling deliveries from drones onto more remote planting sites and tree seedling survival counts using satellites, hyperspectral and multispectral imagery and deep learning.
As these new remote sensing technologies are being rolled out, there is an obvious cross over between forest data collection, remote sensing and cutting-edge research and trials around tree crop management.
Mechanised Planting Technologies
Recently, there had also been a resurgence of interest being shown by forestry companies in Australasia on mechanised or automated operations for planting and silviculture. The economics are starting to stack up and the technology in part can address the growing issue of labour shortages that are being faced over the planting season. Mechanised or machine planting is already successfully being used across Scandinavia and in South America. Operational trials have been undertaken in the central North Island of New Zealand last planting season with more extensive plantings using the mechanical planting systems undertaken on several larger forests this year.
Aside from addressing the shortage of planters this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, some of the advantages being seen of mechanised planting using planting heads mounted on an excavator are much better soil cultivation (ripping and mounding) for the young trees and greater consistency in the quality of the tree planting. Fertiliser granules can also be integrated into the planting process, along with herbicides or insecticides if required.
In drier climates or at the end of the planting season, tree planting can also be extended by the application of water (or slow release irrigation using gels) at the time of planting. This feature, particularly with eucalyptus plantings in countries like Chile, Brazil, South Africa, China and Indonesia, has been used successfully and is being trialled this season in northern NSW, Australia.
Each of the main mechanised planting head manufacturers; Bracke, Sweden, Risutec, Finland and the M-Planter, Finland (represented in this part of the world now by a CNI land preparation contractor) presented as part of ForestTECH 2020. Early trial results and lessons from trials by some of the larger companies in both New Zealand and Australia were detailed to ForestTECH 2020 delegates.
As well as on-ground mechanised planting, aerial planting systems using swarms of drones are also now fully operational. DroneSeed out of the US spoke at last year’s ForestTECH event. They’ve been employing swarms of UAV’s (or drones) to automate tree planting and spraying operations for a number of major North American forest management companies. Late last year, they’d also started commercial trials for planting in New Zealand. Their technology is capable of planting out at six times the speed of the human planter and in some pretty tight and tough terrain. This year they provided an update on their planting trials as well as their projects on reforestation and rehabilitation.
Another company with local ties, AirSeed Technologies, has also devised their own system allowing drones to plant large numbers of seeds in minutes using a pneumatic firing module. It can fire out two seeds per second at velocities of anywhere between 150 and 300 metres per second into the soil. The module, called a Podder, can be attached to the bottom of most popular drone models and a team of two, flying 2 drones, can plant up to 40,000 seeds into the ground in a day. AirSeed Technologies presented at ForestTECH 2020 on their drone technology and work in seedling and tree planting projects.
Together with resource and inventory management, the two days provided a comprehensive technology update for all those involved in forest operations, planning, data capture, forest establishment and tree crop management. Recordings of all presentations and PPT’s (where speaker approval was given) in addition to a comprehensive guidebook were made available to all physical and virtual on-line ForestTECH 2020 delegates.
With the introduction of environmental policies comes an increasing need to monitor changes across landscapes. While high revisit satellite data is touted as providing such a solution; it is often difficult to cope with the volumes of data, filter and interpret changes in a structured way. Indufor’s monitoring system, ‘MO’ presents a rapid, scalable approach to landscape-level change detection. ‘MO’ is designed to provide actionable information that can be used to track and quantify change across broad areas. Lastly, while this demonstration tracks harvesting activity, the solution is flexible. For example, it can be tweaked to monitor any event that results in a change relative to a baseline threshold such as plant flowering or land clearance activities.
In this example, we monitor forest harvesting activity across a target area. We use a flexible framework that subdivides an area into hexagons; each is actively monitored for change using five daily Sentinel-2 imagery. When a significant and sustained change occurs within the unit, an alert is generated, and an interactive online dashboard is updated to reflect the change.
Examples of changes that will trigger alerts include harvesting, bushfires, windthrow and significant stresses that cause canopy thinning or loss.
This process allows large-scale monitoring to be streamlined, eliminating the need for cumbersome manual image search and analysis. Over defined areas, these routines track land cover changes and generate alerts which assist in identifying the date of change and its progression. By generating image collections and cloud and cloud shadow masking, the monitoring system makes the most of the available imagery, allowing it to be used effectively in locations where cloud-free scenes may be rare.
The following Dashboard shows an example of this process run over a subset of an area known as the “Green Triangle”. This area is located along the coastline of South Australia and is one of Australia’s major forest regions. It has extensive plantation softwood and hardwood resources. The area of interest, which is in excess of 51 000 ha is divided into 5 ha hexagon-shaped units. The monitoring process spans from January 2019 to May 2020. Those hex units which have an alert within the monitoring period are highlighted. For each alert, a summary is provided showing date(s) of change, number of alerts and a temporal index profile.
The expectation is that this information would assist agencies tasked with regulatory activities, planners responsible for future development, policymakers and resource owners who wish to demonstrate sustainable land management. Data sharing is further streamlined through the use of an online dashboard which further assists to target, plan and coordinate monitoring efforts.
A solar-powered, unmanned aircraft is being developed in Christchurch, New Zealand in the hope it will be a game changer for the aerial imaging industry.
Kea Aerospace is developing the Kea Atmos aircraft, which has a wingspan of 32m and weighs only 90kg. Covered in solar panels which power three electric motors, the aircraft will be able to fly for months on end.
Kea Aerospace chief executive Mark Rocket said the Kea Atmos would fly 20 times closer to the Earth than satellites, making images more affordable. It is hoped images collected by the aircraft can be used for precision agriculture, disaster management and environmental monitoring.
“Ultimately we would like to have our mission control here in Canterbury and have a whole fleet of these aircraft flying around the world constantly. “We think it could be used for so many things, obviously the first thing is going to be imagery first but eventually it could be used for things like communications and payload testing,” Rocket said.
Rocket, who is initially funding the project, said he had already received a lot of interest from investors. Kea Aerospace is only the second company to take part in the government’s Airspace Integration Trials Programme. The first was with Wisk a company testing a self-flying air-taxi in New Zealand.
Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods said advanced aviation was growing in New Zealand and it brought high-paid jobs. “There are huge opportunities for New Zealand in this wider space. We have seen the success of Rocket Lab and we all [have] pride in what Rocket Lab have achieved.
“There are more opportunities for us as a country and that’s why the innovation partnerships at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment are really pushing into this area,” Woods said. Kea Aerospace is working on prototypes with the first full-scale Kea Atmos expected to be built in 2022.
Photo/ RNZ / Nate McKinnon: Dr. Philipp Sueltrop (Chief Technology Officer) Mark Rocket (CEO Kea Aerospace) Megan Woods, Lianne Dalziel
Dryad Networks is prepping an IoT network of sensors connected via a solar-powered wireless mesh for deployment in forests as an early warning system to detect fires.
A German start-up wants to use IoT sensors and a wireless-mesh network to detect forest fires within 10 minutes to an hour of when they start as opposed to the hours or even days it can take using current methods based on thermal imaging, satellite surveillance and human smoke spotters.
Dryad Networks is developing sensors to detect gases associated with forest fires and engineering how to network them using LoRaWAN and other wireless technologies so the data they gather can be analyzed in the company’s cloud.
The sensors are best placed about 10 feet off the ground in trees, secured by screws, making it more difficult for people or wildlife to disturb them and ensuring they won’t be obscured by grass or fallen leaves, according to founder and CEO Carsten Brinkschulte, a veteran of Apple and SAP.
Each device is equipped with a LoRaWAN modem, which communicates with a mesh gateway. Each gateway can handle all the sensors in a six- to seven-mile radius if they are spaced as Dryad recommends–roughly one per 2.5 acres. In turn, the mesh gateways send the data they gather–also via LoRaWAN– to border gateways that pass it up to the cloud via fixed wireless, LTE or even satellite, depending on the area.
One advantage the gas sensors have over indoor smoke detectors is that they can detect fires even if they are upwind of the fire itself because some of the gases that that the sensors look for diffuse in all directions, the company says.
The sensors are designed to be set-and-forget, with no maintenance required over their roughly 15-year life cycle. A key design consideration was the use of on-device solar charging in combination with supercapacitor battery technology that doesn’t pose the potential fire risk of lithium-ion cells. “We don’t want to bring lithium ion into a forest,” said Brinkschulte.
CASA’s drone registration site is now open and if you operate drones for any purpose other than just for fun, you must register them by 28 January 2021. This applies to all drones that you fly to provide any type of service – no matter how much it weighs.
Be sure you know about all the drones used in your organisation, and have a plan in place to have them registered by the end of January. Note you’re then responsible for de-registering if you cease to operate them in future too.
Drones becoming a useful tool in wildfire meteorology, the effort to understand weather that leads to fire risk.
As wildfires continue to rage across vast swaths of the western United States, researchers are developing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to understand the weather systems that lead to the fires’ ignition and spread and to help develop tools to battle the blazes.
A team of researchers from the Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University in California recently completed a study that demonstrated that a drone equipped with a sonic anemometer is an effective tool for taking vertical profiles of atmospheric variables, a process that would otherwise require the use of costly weather balloons or the construction of a meteorological tower.
What is Wildfire Meteorology?
“It tuns out the wildfire environment is poorly sampled and there have not been a lot of measurements around wildfires,” Craig Clements, professor at SJSU’s Fire Research Laboratory and leader of the project, said in an interview. “We need that data to better understand the fire environment for modelling so we can better predict changes, especially as the climate changes and fires get more intense.”
Clements began experimenting with using unmanned aircraft to measure meteorological conditions near wildfires in 2008, when he flew a small fixed-wing, gas-powered remote-controlled airplane through the smoke plumes of wildfires. Since then, the increasing sophistication of UAVs has greatly expanded the potential for their use in fire research, he said.
Much has been reported on the development and advancements of local research efforts into robotics and automated data capture for forest operations. Elsewhere, USA-based company Treeswift provides an example of how researchers in other parts of the world are embracing the use of robotic tools to help automate forestry, reduce risk for workers, and collect highly accurate data more quickly.
Steven Chen, Co-founder and CEO of Treeswift and doctoral student in Computer and Information Science at Penn Engineering has developed a fleet of drones equipped with LiDAR sensors, that have the capability to fly over forests, collect images, and use them to create detailed 3-D maps.
These drones can be used to calculate inventory, map forests for preservation, and measure biomass and fuel for the prevention of bushfires. Data collected also has potential to be used by researchers to assess the health of forests and create predictive models that support climate change initiatives.
Traditional forest management practices tend to be manual, time consuming, and carry with them varying degrees of risk. They also have the potential for human error. These disadvantages all amount to a large effort for the collection of a small amount of data.
In December last year, Chen received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop his network of drones or ‘flying robots’. This funding has helped to attract additional scientists and engineers to the initiative.
One benefit of high-revisit satellites is their ability to re-image the same location daily or weekly. In this example, we use temporal satellite observations (2016 to 2020) to track drought impact, using PlanetScope imagery to confirm the change.
Working with Scion’s Geomatics team, Indufor has extended the science and developed a monitoring approach that can be used to link satellite imagery with environmental surfaces. The particular method illustrated correlates long-term rainfall trends with satellite imagery to extract key breakpoints or thresholds that flag sustained changes in canopy cover. The monitoring system generates an ‘alert’ where canopy deterioration exceeds a pre-determined benchmark.
By way of illustration, a graph highlighted in the article here plots the vegetation index (green line) and rainfall records (blue bars) over a four-year period, across a single stand. The inclusion of rainfall data assists in explaining the temporal patterns and highlights the corelation between the satellite-derived vegetation index and monthly rainfall. For reference, the dotted line shows Indufor’s Canopy Index baseline, which for this particular stand helps to highlight the difference between the expected and actual canopy condition value.
Such an approach demonstrates the benefits of using temporal information from satellite imagery and environmental data as a screening tool. In the past, such areas may remain unnoticed unless re-mapped or visited. The appeal of the method demonstrated is that it provides a scalable monitoring solution. As alerts are created, they are synchronised to mapping dashboards using a process that provides an efficient way of sharing information across an organisation. More >>.
As wildfires continue to ravage vast swaths of land across the western United States unmanned aerial vehicle operators are stepping up to provide critical services, acting as eyes in the skies in support of firefighting teams on the ground.
Flying two hybrid quadrotor (HQ) aircraft manufactured by L3Harris Technologies, Belgrade, Montana-based Bridger Aerospace, has flown some 250 hours in about a dozen firefighting missions across several western states, Weston Irr, Bridger’s director of unmanned aircraft systems, said in an interview.
The right tools for fighting wildfires with drones
The fixed-wing 90-pound drones’ design and technological features equip them to be deployed to battle wildfires in remote areas. The gasoline-powered aircraft are capable of taking off vertically, like rotary-powered drones. They can remain aloft for 12 hours, although on a typical mission, they are deployed for a six- to eight-hour flight. They’re outfitted with dual-camera systems, for both day and night operations.
With a wing span of 14 feet, the HQ-90 aircraft can be disassembled for easy transport to a fire scene in the bed of a pickup truck and because of their vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability, they don’t need a runway and can take off from virtually any open area within close proximity of the fire.
“The use of runway or landing strip is not a typical luxury that everyone gets,” in wildfire situations, Irr said. “You can launch using a small meadow or a little clearing in the trees.” Bridger has been approved under a special government interest waiver (SGI) to fly its aircraft beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) in wildfire situations, which has given the company the ability to deal with some of the massive wildfires sweeping the West.
The HQ-90 drones’ camera systems allow the aircraft to operate in low-visibility situations, such as in a smoke-filled sky or at night, when manned aircraft are unable to fly. “In smoky environments the infrared capability on our system allows us to see right through that smoke,” Irr said. “We have a really good advantage in those situations because we can see and the system is fully capable of operating.”
Bridger, which began as an aerial wildfire management operator using manned aircraft in 2015, began adding drones to its firefighting arsenal in the 2018 fire season. It utilized a Type 2 vehicle – a drone capable of flying for more than two but less than six hours — produced by Silent Falcon UAS Technologies to create maps that allowed firefighters to gauge the extent of a wildfire’s spread.
Last year, the company moved up the HQ-90 UAV, a Type 1 aircraft, a category which includes any aerial vehicle capable of flying for more than six hours. The longer flight time allowed Bridger to continue to perform its mapping function, while adding aerial surveillance and reconnaissance to its firefighting capabilities.
“Once we complete our mapping mission, we’ll go into a surveillance support role where we’ll fly over certain sections of the fire for a longer period of time to give them extra eyes, or infrared imagery where they need it the most,” Irr said.
In just two weeks we will be running this year’s ForestTECH 2020! This is shaping up to be one of the largest ever ForestTECH events with over 300 set to attend. There has been huge interest in both the in-person event in Rotorua (New Zealand) and the online live streaming event. With expert speakers from every corner of the globe, if you haven’t registered yet, have a look at the programme and sign up now. ForestTECH 2020 runs on 18-19 November 2020.
In this month’s ForestTECH News issue, there are a number of innovative companies making the headlines who will be speaking at ForestTECH 2020. Emesent’s autonomous drone has flown into an underground mine in Canada – while being operated remotely from Australia. Aerometrex has made advancements with LiDAR, allowing cameras to see through canopies and capture fuel load densities in fire-prone areas. Planet satellites were launched into orbit by Rocket Lab last week.
A couple of other interesting highlights include the use of high-resolution satellite images to map more than 1.8 billion individual tree canopies in West Africa and a New Zealand tree planting app designed to give tree donors the ability to track their tree’s growth.
There’s a lot more in this month’s issue, so check them all out below!
Remember, you can also send through any contributions, stories or links that we can pass onto the wider community.
Editors Note: Aerometrex is also a sponsor of ForestTECH 2020 and will present this exciting new innovation in detail at the conference.
Aerometrex has just announced that it’s developed a new technology that can determine, in three dimensions, the exact fuel load densities in any bushfire-prone region in Australia.
The product is an advance of the company’s existing LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) technology and was developed over 2020 in conjunction with government and industry in the wake of the disastrous Black Summer fires across Australia during the 2019-20 fire season. The technology will be available to authorities ahead of this year’s bushfire season.
It surpasses current and historic fuel load methodologies by delivering and visualising data not possible to be collected or “seen” from conventional satellite, aerial or drone imagery fire-fighting tools. Its real-time and ultra-high data capture of fuel load density underneath tree canopies is achievable regardless of location, terrain type, ground cover or accessibility.
It is understood to be the first system able to standardise the capture of LIDAR for the purpose of bushfire fuel load mapping in Australia and they believe the breakthrough should allow emergency authorities, government, and communities, to adopt a far more science-based and pre-emptive fuel load strike position ahead of this year’s bushfire season.
Emesent is an innovative Australian data analytics and drone autonomy start-up. The company presented at last year’s ForestTECH 2019 event and will again be presenting at this years ForestTECH 2020 event scheduled to run on 18-19 November.
Soon after last year’s ForestTECH event in Rotorua, Scion undertook trials using the Hovermap sensor unit which integrates with a drone flight control system that enables data to be collected from beneath a tree canopy. Mid last year, Interpine, after using the Hovermap technology in a series of forestry trials since late 2019, bought their own unit describing the results as being a “game changer for the forestry sector”.
At ForestTECH 2020 this year, not only are results and learnings from the use of this new technology being discussed but an additional half-day workshop (free to ForestTECH 2020 delegates who will be in Rotorua for the event) is being run by Interpine and Emesent on the morning of Friday 20 November. Further details can be found here.
In addition to the application of the technology to the forestry industry, Emesent is also making history with remotely operated autonomous drone flights. The latest flight took place underground in a mine in Canada – but was operated from Australia. These missions “promise to drive revolutionary change in the heavy industry space,” says an Emesent press release.
This flight took place August 28, 2020, at an Ultra-Deep Canadian Hard-Rock Mine. “Emesent’s Hovermap LiDAR payload enabled an autonomous drone flight underground,” says the release. The missions prove the capabilities of autonomy and remote operations. The missions also make excellent business sense. Mines are particularly appropriate for drone technology: they are the dark, dirty and dangerous environs perfect for robotic missions. Mines are often in remote areas. In some cases, mines must be monitored for safety well after their production has ceased.
Due to these factors, the ability to monitor a mine from anywhere in the world is a compelling business application with tremendous value to the mining industry – and many other heavy industry sectors. “For this proof-of-concept, the drone was piloted from take-off to landing by Emesent founders Dr. Stefan Hrabar and Dr. Farid Kendoul using standard online remote collaboration tools and Emesent’s recently launched Autonomy Level 2 (AL2) feature,” the release explains. “Local support was provided by Unmanned Aerial Services Inc., Emesent’s partner in the region. This collaboration resulted in the world’s first remotely-operated autonomous drone flight in an underground mine.”
In early August, Emesent conducted a remote demonstration for a South African company. In that application, operators in South Africa operated “a Hovermap-enabled drone down a tunnel in Queensland, some 11,000 kilometres away,” said the release. So, here’s how it works. More >>.