The robots are coming to the B.C. forest sector. It’s the undeniable wave of the future for forestry companies seeking long-term sustainability in an industry that has come to a high-tech crossroads that will reshape how our forests are managed and utilized.
Rapid advances in remote sensing technology to map, monitor and manage valuable landscape resources are changing how forest health and wildlife activity is measured and the use of remotely-operated robotic harvesting equipment is gaining a foothold in Interior forests. Companies are utilizing new tools to meet goals in environmental stewardship, safety and efficiency.
The ability to operate a crane remotely to load a logging truck means the operator can avoid adverse weather conditions and work safely, day or night. Advances in 5G networks have increased connectivity speed to the point at which real-time virtual control is possible for machine operators using cameras mounted on machines to work wirelessly in the woods.
“We all know forestry is a dangerous business and working around safety and getting people off steep slopes – remote control machines will now allow that,” said UBC forest resources management associate professor Dominik Roeser, who was one of the guest speakers at the B.C. Council of Forest Industries convention in Prince George back in April.
“In the future, you could probably operate your forest machine from your living room, from containers sitting at the top of the hillside, and you’re getting away from this by-yourself operation in the dark to a more communal operation of equipment.”
Machine automation is already being utilized on modern forest machines and Roeser says it’s only a matter of time before there is broad adoption of fully automated equipment in Canadian forests.
Since the 1950s, the number of human-hours it takes to harvest trees has declined almost every year due to advances in mechanical equipment that made harvesting operations more efficient. But that curve has flattened or declined every year since the early 2000s, which Roeser says is a reflection of societal demands for more stringent environmental regulations that have had an impact on logging activities. The evolution of new technologies combined with digitization gives the forest sector hope that trend will be reversed.
Advances as simple as a mobile phone app that instantly determines the volume of a loaded logging truck is an example of supply-chain tracking tools that could save costs for B.C. companies that have long distances to overcome.
“This has been standard on cut-to-length operations for 15 years in Nordic countries and we’re starting this now, and that’s where we should take a step back and think about a lost opportunity,” said Roeser. “I think one of the challenges we’ve always had in B.C. is we’ve had always so much wood, we never had to be super-efficient. In Europe, everything is more scarce and you learn to deal with that scarcity by getting real good and very efficient.”
Photo: waka Kotahi NZ
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