Emergent TechnologyA Phone in the Forest

By Lindsay R. Mohlere

In today’s world, almost every facet of industry is brimming with new technology designed to increase production, efficiency, and safety. Whether it is systems designed to maximize existing technology like infrared, sonar, and lidar, or tech advances in manufacturing, logistics, telemetrics, and more, everywhere you look, the impact of innovation and new technology has changed the way we work.

The timber business is a prime example. Beginning with the development of the chainsaw and through the continued evolution of mechanized forestry, our industry has led the pack. Major manufacturers like CAT, John Deere, Link-Belt, and Ponsse, to name a few, all have relied upon new developments in manufacturing, telecommunications, GPS tracking, and mapping to make life more productive, easier, and safer in the forest.

IT Commonplace

Information technology systems are now standard equipment in most harvesters and forwarders. Highly effective in CTL operations, these telematic devices are used to communicate machine and operator efficiency, in addition to optimizing machine maintenance and diagnostics data along with harvest parameters.

The major brands have focused on user-friendly applications that enable the operator, the office, and the dealer to easily transfer pertinent data back and forth.

As an example, Ponsse’s Opti4 suite offers a system designed for forest machines that includes diagnostics and the control and monitoring of harvesting. Lee Miller, president of Miller Timber Services in Philomath, Oregon, gives the Opti4 system a thumbs up. “I like the system’s ability to track the tree species and what’s been cut. The accuracy is the strength, and it’s easy to use,” he said.

The data can also be communicated via cell phone. However, coverage is challenging and subject to terrain.

Another example is JDLink, John Deere’s software/hardware package that comes as standard equipment on new forest machines and includes a mobile app. The service is similar to the Ponsse system, but it attempts to solve the connectivity problem of cell phones by including a dual subscription satellite mode.

Data will be transmitted via cell service unless the connection can’t be established, then it automatically switches to satellite to transmit information.

It’s all pretty cool stuff, but the fact of the matter is that loggers are not necessarily tech savvy, and for the most part don’t want to be. Some guys will use it religiously. Others will not. They don’t like to use it, relying on time-tested methods instead.

However, the convenience of a cell phone added to the mix might be a game changer.

Broken machine? Now you can literally phone it in.

Robots in the Woods

Autonomous forestry machines are coming to a forest near you. Yup, robots in the woods. It’s true. It’s real. And it’s going to be sooner than you think!

It wasn’t too long ago that people thought of robots as machines that could do the dirty work. Now, modern robots are deployed across multiple disciplines to assist in nearly every niche of life, from manufacturing, logistics, and health care to law enforcement, space travel, and much, much more.

Driverless, or self-driving, cars were once just a pipe dream and fodder for sci-fi movies. But now, thanks to Tesla and Google, and their push into unmanned vehicle technologies, driverless cars are now on the road. Big brands like GM, Mercedes, Ford, and Nissan, all have a stake in the game. It didn’t take long to go from an idea to tires on the road.

The same can be said about automating and autonomous logging. A few years ago, it was just an idea, but now there is serious research and testing going forward.

Swedish timber, pulp, and paper manufacturing company SCA, headquartered in Sundsvall, Sweden, is playing a huge part in this endeavor, with an ultimate goal of developing an autonomous forwarder. The project is led by Skogforsk (Forestry Research Institute of Sweden).

“SCA is participating as a financier and in the reference group, where we can contribute with our knowledge, and if sufficient progress is made, we will also be able to offer test environments in our forests,” said Magnus Bergman, head of technology and operational development at SCA.

“The long-term vision is entirely self-driving machines, but I hope that we’ll see short-term effects with the system that make it easier for operators to do a good job. It can be compared with a self-driving car—someone still needs to sit in it but does not need to actively steer,” he said.

I’m not sure what I think about all this robot stuff. The forest is a complex environment, and operating machines in the woods requires skill and human sensitivity. Of course, the manufacturers are going to push ahead if the numbers work. Robots might increase safety. Maybe more wood could be transported from site to landing, increasing production. Maybe.

But for now, I’m sticking with the guy wearing the hard hat.

Welcome to Fire Season

This year, wildland firefighters will have the benefit of increased usage of modern, high-tech equipment to help battle fires throughout the West.

A couple of new firefighting cameras from 3M Scott Fire & Safety and FLIR Systems have recently been added to the growing firefighting camera market.

The Scott camera offers advanced features such as hot and cold tracking and automatic video recording. The FLIR rig is a hand-held camera that offers visibility through smoke and darkness to improve situational awareness for use in wildland fire control, structure damage evaluation, and search and rescue missions.

We’ll also see increased used of drones carrying infrared sensors and mapping technology to facilitate updating wildfire maps in real time.

Next year the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act kicks in and will require all local, state, and federal firefighters assigned to large wildfires to be equipped with personal GPS devices so commanders have real-time locations of personnel and resources – a measure that will save lives.

That’s a wrap.

‘Til then. Stay safe out there.

Talk back at [email protected].

TimberWest November/December 2013
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