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Trees Tell Their Own Story to Satellites

EU–(ENEWSPF)–2 April 2012. Communications via satellite are changing the way the forest industry harvests trees. A new approach being tested by ESA combines satcoms and cellular services to relay important information almost immediately so that fewer trees are used to produce more timber. 

Irish company Treemetrics, in cooperation with ESA, is developing Satmodo, a new system that provides realtime communications with the harvesting machines and their drivers.

Managers can now send instructions directly to computers in the vehicles via satellite, instructing operators how to cut to make the best use of the trees.

All trees are not created equal. Some are more suited to be used to make pulp, while others are better suited as ‘sawlogs’ – for cutting into timber in a sawmill, making them more valuable. 

Such trees are greater in diameter, straighter and have fewer knots. Cutting down valuable sawlog trees for producing pulp is a waste and reduces the crop’s worth.

Treemetrics had already designed a new way to assess the value of a timber crop before harvest using 3D laser scanners to measure the shape, size and straightness of standing trees.

The software produces ‘a cut instruction’ file, based on the customer’s request, which tells the machine and its operator how to harvest the forest.

Until now, managers had to give harvesters the data they needed to cut trees via email, by phone, or face to face.

Emailed information had to be manually entered into a control computer on the vehicle and uploaded every time the machine required a new instruction file.

Now, thanks to satcoms, ESA provides the missing link in the chain: Satmodo’s two-way realtime or near-realtime connection with the harvesting machines.

By gathering information on what the actual timber yield is per hectare and sending back this information through Satmodo, the actual harvest can be determined almost in real time and amended on the spot, rather than waiting until after the entire forest has been cut.

Satmodo consists of a hybrid satellite/terrestrial wireless device installed in the vehicle, transmitting data in real time via the new Inmarsat IsatM2M service.

IsatM2M is a two-way messaging service that enables machine-to-machine tracking and monitoring anywhere in the world via satellite, no matter how remote.

Satmodo also provides a communications ‘safety net’ for harvesters who frequently work in remote locations.  

It keeps workers in constant contact in areas where land-based mobile networks simply won’t work.

To test the Satmodo system, the hybrid device will be installed in 20 harvesting vehicles, allowing individual machines or groups of machines to be monitored.

Harvesting workflow will be managed in near-realtime, creating a fully integrated management system.

Based in Cork, Ireland and endorsed by Ireland’s Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr. Seán Sherlock, Treemetrics has spent years developing measurement and analytics technology to replace traditional forestry methods.

The company approached ESA through its Satcom Applications programme to help develop their technology further through the use of satellites.

 “ESA with its innovative integrated application platform is very pleased to support a great idea coming from this young entrepreneurship,” said Amnon Ginati, the Head of the Integrated and Telecommunications-Related Applications Department at ESA.

“We are also very pleased with the endorsement that it is receiving both at a political level and from Enterprise Ireland.”

Source: esa.int

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