By Lindsay R. Mohlere
Welcome to Emergent Tech-nologies, TimberWest’s new column focused on technology and innovation in the timber business. We will do our best to keep you up to date on current tech issues and applications relevant to our industry, as well as explore the possibilities of new applications being researched and tested.
It is a somewhat daunting task. The learning curve is steep. Since the introduction of the chainsaw in the early 1950s, the timber industry has embraced the application of many technological advances in both mechanized harvesting and automated wood processing.
Radical innovations hardly visualized 25 years ago are now being adapted for use in forest machinery, communication systems, engineering design, and analytics. These advances are changing the way we work.
Equipment manufacturers have been keen on introducing many new technological improvements that zero in on the business of increasing production, efficiency, and safety in one of the world’s toughest industries. Elements of forest management have been quick to grasp the benefits of precision mapping and much more. Fire managers have been the forward vanguard of adapting new technology in weather predicting, thermal imaging, aerial deployment, and communications.
New applications seemingly appear daily. Crazy change is the new normal. As we see the impact of this evolution, it’s safe to say the logging biz is steadily trudging out of the dark ages of the analog forest into the new frontier of the digital age.
Let There Be Light
In my search for enlightenment (pardon the pun) of emergent technologies in the timber business, one particular tech application that piqued my interest is LiDAR.
LiDAR is the acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. Working on the principal of radar, LiDAR uses light from a laser. It is a surveying method that measures the distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor.
First developed in the 1970s, the remote systems have evolved from being large instruments deployed via aircraft to small, more precise systems that can be used with drones.
The instrument principally consists of a laser, a scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver. The light pulses, combined with other data recorded by the aerial asset, generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.
3D topographical images can be produced with LiDAR using near-infrared lasers for land while bathymetric lidar uses water-penetration green light to measure seafloor and riverbed elevations.
The technology is used by NOAA, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon Department of Geology and Minerals, and Washington State’s DNR along with many other geoscience organizations and institutions worldwide.
NOTE: LiDAR is also the major technology behind self-driving automobiles. Wonder if they’ll adapt it to an autonomous skidder.
LiDAR in the Forest
To understand the benefits of using LiDAR technology in forest management, it’s important to know how the system works.
Basically, the system sends a laser pulse of light energy to the ground and waits for the pulse to return. LiDAR measures how long it takes for the light to bounce back to the sensor. Where the light pulses hit is called a point. Some LiDAR systems can send as many as 160,000 pulses per second. From that data, it gets a variable distance to the Earth.
In the forest, a significant amount of sunlight comes through the forest canopy, down through vegetation to the forest floor. LiDAR pulses go through and penetrate the canopy just like sunlight, however the pulses can be reflected off different parts of the forest until the pulse finally hits the ground and bounces back to the sensor. The system records the pulse information starting with returns from the top of the canopy all the way to the ground. This makes LiDAR highly valuable for understanding forest structure and shape of the trees.
LiDAR systems are currently being used to determine individual tree height and crown diameter, in addition to creating super-accurate topo maps and assisting with a wide range of natural resource conservation applications.
LiDAR, along with MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Land Rapid Response is widely used in wildland firefighting. Coupled with NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites, the sensors on MODIS show heat sources in near real time, while LiDAR generates precise, 3D information about the composition of the fuel bed.
Other LiDAR applications in forestry cover a lot of territory. Beginning with micro-topography, forest planning and management, forest fire management, and forest mapping, the technology can also assist in environmental assessment, biodiversity of birds, ecological and land classification, and pollution modelling, among several others.
The Future is Now!
On our voyage through the emergent technologies, we’ll look to the manufacturers like Ponsse, CAT, and Link-Belt for quick peeks of their new technological developments designed to make working in the woods a whole lot easier, more productive, and safer. We’ll also seek out and talk to the folks who have helped develop what could be our future tools. Seems to me it will be an interesting and informative journey.
Stay safe out there.
Talk back at email@example.com.
(Ref:NOAA, The Daily Beast, AP, USDA, OSU, blog www.lidarradar)
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