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Another step towards autonomous forestry machines

Automated forestry loaderImagine being able to tell a machine what to do in the forest, where the terrain is unpredictable, that there are many physical obstacles, and that the worksites are remote. This is a reality that may not be so far off, based on the progress of FPInnovations’ automated forestry loader project.

To face the challenges of labour shortages, plateauing productivity, and rising operating costs, FPInnovations has been working for several months on developing technology that will allow for long-term automation of loading operations in the forest and at the mill. The automated forestry loader being used in this project is now able to detect and handle logs on the ground, and it does so autonomously.

“Wood handling is a complex function that is common to many machines. We have successfully completed the first step, which consists of having the system detect and manipulate a log on the ground and then deposit it in the loader,” says Martin Castonguay, lead researcher in the digitalization team at FPInnovations.

At FPInnovations’ Pointe-Claire laboratory, engineers and programmers have been hard at work adding sensors and hardware to the loader. They have also been defining vision and control algorithms that decode the information so that the loader performs the desired movements with the right amount of fluidity and precision. You can see the latest progress in the following video.

“We are now ready to move on to the next phase, which is handling logs in a stack as well as handling multiple logs at once, and are focused on finalizing the development of the handling algorithms. We will then be leaving our controlled environment to test this technology in the mill yards and, eventually, in the forest,” says Castonguay. The knowledge acquired could then be applied to other forestry machines that handle wood.

The project will also include the preparation of a detailed industrial implementation plan and the identification of ideal partners with whom to collaborate to put the technology to work for the forest industry and accelerate the automation of forestry operations in Canada.

For more information on FPInnovations’ automated-harvesting projects, read these articles to learn more about the automated-harvesting project: “Automated harvesting with robots in the forest“,  “FPInnovations, Swedish forestry institute sign MOU to advance harvesting automation,” and “Forestry of the future; the Sustainable Revolution.”

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