Space and robotics technology used to improve forest planning and harvesting

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Washington, June 30 (ANI): Space and robotics technology have been combined to develop an advanced Precision Forestry Positioning System, which allows more efficient forest planning and harvesting.

Invented by researchers at the Institute of Man-Machine-Interaction at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, the system has helped catalogue 240 million single trees in the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia. he system combines remote-sensing maps from airplanes with satellite navigation data to map each tree in a forest.

This information is then used to plan which trees are to be cut, and when.

Finally, the plan is used on harvesters to identify which trees to cut. This helps make the harvesting more efficient, optimises overall wood production and reduces costs.

The system won the North Rhine-Westphalia Region's 2008 European Satellite Navigation Competition, which was supported by ESA's Technology Transfer Programme Office.

"We already have one harvester in operation with our system onboard. As the prototype works well, we are fairly close to the stage where we can go into production. Another 6 to 12 months, and we should be there," said Professor Dr Jurgen Rossmann from RWTH Aachen University, who developed the system together with Petra Krahwinkler, Arno Bucken and Dr Michael Schluse.

The objective of the Precision Forestry Positioning System is to automate and optimize all the work involved in foresting, from the early planning of the forest to the final cutting of single trees, in order to be competitive on the worldwide market, and to overcome efficiency problems related to the forest ownership structure of the region.

"Precision farming is important in today's agriculture, where farmers can save money with the use of satellite navigation systems," explained Arno Bucken.

"However, the accuracy of the GPS navigation system, which is of 20 to 30 m, is not enough to identify single trees in a forest. Much higher accuracy is needed," he added.

"We found a solution to this problem, which increases the accuracy to 50 cm, by using GPS as the initial reference position, and then taking remote-sensing data to identify the single trees in the forest," he explained.

To help the planning, a virtual computer-based forest has been developed with all trees being identified by their location, based on the GPS and remote-sensing data. In addition, a fourth dimension, 'time', has been added, and is of the utmost importance for this system.

"All trees are not only known by their geo-coordinates, but they are also time-stamped, and all measurement data are archived.

This makes it possible to see 'how trees grow', as well as look back to learn from the past," said Rossmann. (ANI)

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