Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Technology in the Forest

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality Technology in the Forest

By Lindsay R. Mohlere

As the timber business stomps through the 21st Century, new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality are being applied to harvesting, milling, wood products manufacturing, and firefighting to increase production, efficiency, and safety across all levels of the industry.

Just so you know, the following are basic definitions of AI and VR.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing (NLP), speech recognition, and machine vision.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside an experience.

AI Could Pinpoint Fire Risk

Forest mismanagement, rising global temperatures, and changes in weather patterns have all added to the increasing number of devastating wildfires that have ravaged our forests in the past few years. It is difficult to predict where these fires are likely to ignite and how they might spread.

Usually, the Forest Service calculates the amount of burnable fuel on the landscape and its level of dryness by manually collecting branches from trees and brush and testing for water content. The collected information is added to the National Fuel Moisture Database. While live fuel moisture content is a well-established factor that influences wildfire risk, it is extremely labor intensive and difficult to gather at the scale and speed necessary to aid wildfire management.

According to and, Stanford University researchers may have found a way to help, using machine learning and satellite imagery. Researchers have tapped into recently available data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel and Landsat satellites. When carefully analyzed, the satellites’ imagery cache of the Earth’s surface could provide a secondary source for assessing wildfire risk.

Stanford ecohydrologist Alexandra Konings said in a news release that using the Sentinel satellites’ synthetic aperture radar, which utilizes longer wave lengths, allows “the observations to be sensitive to water much deeper into the forest canopy and be directly representative of the fuel moisture content.”

The Stanford team fed the model three years of data for 239 sites across the West starting in 2015 and paired it with manual measurements made by the Forest Service. The model then “learns” which particular features of the imagery correlate with the ground-truth measurements. They tested the AI agent for accuracy by having it make predictions based on old data for which they already knew the answers. The results showed the AI predictions closely matched field measurements in the National Fuel Moisture Database. The development of this deep-learning model that maps fuel moisture levels could greatly improve fire studies and help reveal areas of greatest risk.

Atlas Polar Adds Virtual Reality Technology with LogLift

Canadian truck-mounted crane company Atlas Polar recently announced it will now carry the entire range of HIAB/LOGLIFT heavy-duty cranes and accessories. HIAB truck-mounted cranes are an industry leader known for its innovation. One of the most exciting of those innovations is the HiVision/LOGLIFT, the first timber crane to be controlled by virtual reality.

Operators use a VR headset that gives them a 270-degree field of vision while they direct the crane from the passenger seat of the truck. VR eliminates the need for an additional crane cabin, saving weight while increasing payload, profit, and driver safety. Other technological advances offered by LOGLIFT include innovative features like SafetyPlus, hydraulic pilot, a wireless scale, HiVis for maximum visibility, multiple boom, and capacity options, plus many others that are essential for long life and rugged durability.

Wood Products Companies Retool to Make PPE

This is a shout out for several wood products companies that quickly retooled their operating technology to dive into manufacturing and supplying critical personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against COVID-19.

Toast, a small Portland-based manufacturer of wood and leather goods for tech services, has begun making plastic personal protective face shields. “I knew that sewing masks was not an option.  But plastic face shields were. We need to prioritize front-line workers at health clinics, hospitals, and government agencies, said Matias Brecher, founder of Toast.

Another Oregon company, Hewn Elements, which specializes in manufacturing wood products, answered the call to think outside the box. “We took our talent and existing supply chain connections and came up with a mask design,” said Bret Morgan, an owner of Hewn Elements.

New Orleans-based GoodWood NOLA transitioned its16,000-square-foot woodshop to manufacture face shields. GoodWood’s core business is designing and building mixed-media furniture for offices, restaurants, retail stores, and residential clients.

Minnesota-based Woodchuck USA, which produces high-end custom wood products including personalized gifts and phone cases, is opening as much as 50 percent of its production line to provide medical and PPE products.

Cooper Enterprises, an Ohio-based contract manufacturer of commercial wood components, is now offering cut-to-size manufacturing services for cashier shields. Made of clear acrylic, cashier shields are a barrier between customers and store employees at checkout lanes and pharmacy counters.

Canada’s Best Damn Doors has dedicated its entire plant to make PPE face shields, ramping up production to 5,000 units per day.

Timberlane has shifted from making window shutters to shields to help provide medical professionals with PPE equipment. They are providing these at cost to help those in the medical industry and other essential workers who are serving on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic.

Phoenix-based Urban Plough Furniture has started building intubation boxes — inexpensive temporary protection devices for healthcare workers. The only supplies needed to build a box are plexiglass, masking tape, and some kind of acrylic adhesive.

While not making healthcare products themselves, wood machinery giant SCM says it will assist woodworking companies in switching their production applications to produce medical safety devices or other essential supplies to help mitigate supply interruptions related to COVID-19. SCM will provide priority application support such as programming, machining, and fixturing consultation.

That’s a Wrap!

(Source:,, Woodworking Network)

TimberWest November/December 2013
July August 2020

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2020/21 Buyer’s Guide
Complete directory to products, manufacturers, distributors and services.

Guest Column
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