Each year, many forested areas in Canada are being severely impacted or threatened by forest fires. Communities located near those areas must often be evacuated and suffer enormous material losses.
One of the priorities of fire agencies is to protect those communities located in forest areas. This includes proactively reducing the risk of wildfire entering communities through the treatment of the forest fuels.
As part of its Forestry 4.0 program, a group of experts from FPInnovations’ Wildfire group has collaborated with New Zealand companies Scion and InFact over the past years to the development of a new robotic tool that could serve this purpose.
The Tree-to-Tree harvesting robot
The collaborative work led to the development of the Tree-to-Tree, a remote-controlled harvesting robot designed to move from one tree to the other and to carry out thinning operations on unwanted trees. The device is comprised of a two-armed robot equipped with a mechanical jaw at each end. Its design allows the robot to move easily, grabbing trees along the way. A saw blade positioned at the base of the jaw system allows to cut trees near ground level.
During the cut, force will be applied to push the tree in the intended direction of fall, therefore reducing pinching of saw blade. The jaws can grip trees with a diameter of 80-160 mm; with a range of 1 to 2 meters and a tilt of 10 degrees, the robot can theoretically operate above uneven ground, even in difficult to access areas. Possible uses include thinning of black spruce or pine stands around communities, and dangerous tree removal on wildfires and pre-commercial thinning/pruning of forest stands by industry.
Helping Canadian communities
Additional trials are still required to evaluate how the robot can be used in the Canadian environment. As many communities across the boreal forest require protective actions be taken against the possibility of wildfires moving into their boundaries, it is anticipated that this robot could be a possible economic and safe solution.
FPInnovations pursues its work as the only wildfire operations research program in Canada with direct links to forest fire agencies and fireline operations. In that respect, the Tree-to-Tree robot could potentially be used for FireSmart fire fuel reduction activities around communities as well as pre-commercial thinning in forest operations.