Published 19 October 2017 by Ian Blanden
The “Internet of things” (IoT) is a concept that has the potential to dramatically change our society in the coming years – but what could it mean for forestry?
Imagine a network of drones or satellites remote sensing our forests and plantations to enable instant access to real-time information on everything – from tree growth and full inventory data for planning models, to the detection of forest fires, disease and even theft.
What if these real-time planning models could be automatically uploaded into harvesting machines to provide operators with the latest real-time digital harvesting map that includes streams, site features, hills, and geo fences to protect historical objects. The model might also inform operators of the wood quality in individual standing trees – ensuring the right log is sent to the right mill to guarantee the highest value end use.
Once they are harvested and scanned (internally as well as externally) by the harvesting machines and tagged with their own specific information, these “smart logs” could then allow mill machines to be automatically optimised to get the very best out of each log – as well as providing a digital proof of chain of custody for traceability and forest certification purposes.
This all may sound like something from the realm of science fiction or some distant future. But with the prospect of IoT, this vision could actually become reality in the forest industry sooner than many people think.
The promise of greater connectivity
The fact is that many of these solutions and technologies are already available to us – including affordable drone technology, high-tech harvesting machines capable of uploading detailed digital forest plans, and even geo fences to protect sensitive objects. What we currently lack is connectivity, and this is where IoT comes in.
The IoT is the network of physical devices, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.
Connectivity would enable us to optimise the entire forest industry value chain – from creating accurate forestry planning models based on actual real-time data, to ensuring we get the most value out of each individual tree. This not only has the potential to significantly enhance operational efficiency, but also the overall sustainability of forest industry operations.
With technological advancements seemingly progressing at an ever-increasing pace, watch out for signs of science fiction in a forest or mill near you.